November 7, 2017

Proposed temporary property tax freeze 'watered down' by exemptions


Illinois lawmakers this week could get a chance to freeze some of Illinois' high property taxes, but a freeze won't bring down the already high burden in some areas.

Illinois has the second highest property tax burden in the country behind New Jersey. There have been proposals over the years for a permanent freeze, a four-year freeze, a freeze with required referenda to increase or decrease property taxes and more, but none have been successful.

A House committee last week approved an amendment to Senate Bill 851 that would bring about a two-year property tax freeze for Cook and a handful of collar counties and allow for the rest of the state to freeze property taxes through voter referendum.

State Rep. Michelle Mussman, D-Schaumburg, sponsored the amendment.

"The high cost of property taxes is hands down the biggest concern my residents raise door-to-door and at every single town hall meeting," Mussman said.

She said high property taxes are a leading reason people are leaving the state. Her bill is an effort to compromise with Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has been pushing for property tax relief since he took office in 2015.

Americans for Prosperity Illinois State Director Andrew Nelms said a freeze doesnít lessen the already high burden.

"Youíre going the wrong way," Nelms said, "to go from a permanent, to a four-year, to a two-year, never mind the fact that they continue to water it down with these exemptions."

Mussmanís amendment would still allow local governments to increase property taxes for debt service and pension payments. It would also exempt several dozen school districts that are on a financial watch list, including Chicago Public Schools, from having their property taxes frozen.

The bill could be approved in the House and concurred in the Senate when lawmakers return for veto session this week.

Former state Sen. Bill Morris is advocating for Mussmanís bill. Morris said his school district raised property taxes to build a new school in anticipation of increasing enrollment, but then enrollment dropped. He said local governments canít live within their means.

"They cannot be trusted," Morris said. "And a little tap on the cheek, which is all this does, would give them a little come to Jesus time, which they need to have."

Nelms said local governments havenít shown much restraint.

"For Heavenís sakes, household incomes havenít continuously steadily increased every single year," Nelms said, "And yet local government budgets certainly have continued to steadily increase every single year."

But Nelms said the two-year freeze that could come up in the House and concurred in the Senate this week is the wrong plan because it is short term, only impacts a handful of counties, and allows property taxes to increase for debt service and pensions.