Problems that are ignored only get worse.
Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas recently made an announcement that deserved far more attention than it received — both for what it says about the present, and more ominously, what it portends for the future.
Pappas disclosed there are 57,515 property owners who need to pay their property taxes to avoid foreclosure at a May 8 tax sale.
“That is exactly 17,000 more than last year at this time,” she said.
There are, obviously, a variety of reasons why so many property owners in that county are behind — a 42 percent increase compared to this time last year. One can write them off to forgetfulness and administrative errors of one kind or another.
But those are issues that are not new. So is there something else at play here — like property taxes that have become so onerous people can’t pay them?
Pappas wants the Legislature to extend the payment deadline to avoid mass foreclosures. But that’s just putting a finger in the dike, because the property-tax problem is only going to get worse.
That’s one reason why the abject failure of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s property-tax task force is, even if not surprising, so disappointing.
Last year, in an effort to persuade some legislators to approve putting his proposed progressive-income-tax constitutional amendment on the November 2020 ballot, the governor promised that a legislative task force look at the problem of rising property taxes and propose solutions.
That’s a time-honored ruse — give us a high income tax and we’ll lower property taxes — that Illinois politicians have employed. But they usually go through the motions, producing platitudes and bromides that end up on a shelf somewhere gathering dust.
Facing a Dec. 31 deadline, the 88-member task force demonstrated its lack of zeal by doing virtually nothing, then failing to meet it.
This week, the chairman of the revenue committee in the Illinois House stated the obvious — there will be no report and no recommendations for improving the situation.
Two factors are at play. Our legislators simply aren’t up to the heavy lifting that’s required to effectively address complicated issues. Further, the state’s property-tax problem is hugely complicated, to the point that it would probably take a complete restructuring of the tax system in Illinois that would cause political complications for our re-election-focused legislators.
Republicans on the property-tax task force came up with their own set of proposals to ease spending pressure on local taxing bodies, like eliminating unfunded mandates and eliminating and/or consolidating local units of government.
Democrats essentially ignored them while complaining that there is “no one real solution” that is “going to offer one-size-fits-all relief.”
“... you have all these ideas that come together, and no one can gain a majority to author a finalized report,” said state Rep. Mike Zalewski, chairman of the House revenue committee.
There are reasons for that.
Property taxes are imposed by local units of government, of which there are far too many.
To ease the burden on local governments, the state would have to both lower the locals’ costs while providing them with more revenue. So far, the state shows little interest in doing either to any significant degree.
As a consequence, spend-happy legislators want to raise taxes to support their policy while local officials rely on a steady stream of property-tax increases to meet their obligations.
That’s all well and good until property owners can’t take it anymore because they don’t have the financial resources.
Is that what’s happening in Cook and the collar counties? Is so, when will the contagion spread downstate, where property taxes are already high and constantly going higher?
If anything is obvious about this state and its massive fiscal woes, it’s that the governor and legislators simply won’t act until circumstances are so bad that they have no choice. That’s why it’s one tax increase after another.
There’s a breaking point. Pappas’ announcement should serve as a warning that a property-tax apocalypse is coming, perhaps sooner than those in charge anticipate.