When considering Gov. Bruce Rauner’s five must-have Turnaround Agenda items, a two-year property tax freeze for homeowners seems to be garnering the most attention.
After all, the local property tax is the most hated in the U.S., according to Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research group. And, Illinois ranks No. 2 in the U.S. for its high property taxes behind only New Jersey.
Last week, a new proposal emerged in the Illinois Senate. Senate Bill 316 calls for a two-year property tax freeze, coupled with changes to the state’s education funding formula that many believe to be unfair to poorer school districts. It also requires the state to pay employer costs for Chicago teacher pensions.
The bill passed out of an Illinois Senate committee on a 10-5 vote last week. State Sen. Pat McGuire said the legislation sunsets the current state’s General State Aid formula in June 2017 – a move that could place pressure on lawmakers to reach a new agreed-upon funding formula sooner rather than later.
But would a property tax freeze do more harm than good? Depends on who you ask.
Terry Kernc, president of the Will County Government League and mayor for the village of Diamond, said a freeze would “tie municipalities’ hands,” she said.
“Some communities have some reserves in the bank. Others are just barely making it. Any type of property tax freeze for a community that’s struggling could be extremely detrimental to them,” Kernc said.
The Will County Government League supports local decision-making, said Jim Holland, mayor for the village of Frankfort and past president of the WCGL. Such a freeze would be detrimental to taxing districts, he said.
“Many special taxing districts ... the parks, the libraries, the schools … are almost totally dependent on property taxes,” Holland said. “If anything, the state Legislature needs to offer a substitute for that revenue.”
But property tax relief is a must, said Will County Board member Steve Balich, R-Homer Glen.
As a well-known tea party member, Balich said he’s circulating his own petition in Homer Glen for a non-binding ballot referendum. It asks voters whether each taxing body should be required to seek voter approval for any increases.
“People hate property taxes,” Balich said. “I hear people all the time say, ‘Why would I want to buy this house that costs all this money … to live here?’ They’d rather live somewhere else … and that somewhere else is usually out of state.”
Since Rauner took office earlier this year, Illinois House lawmakers have taken up various property tax freeze bills, only to watch them fail with Republican lawmakers saying they chose not to vote on those because they left out key components sought by Rauner.
The Republican governor has repeatedly said he would only vote for a freeze if the proposal was paired with restrictions to municipal collective bargaining and public works contracting.