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Seize the Day and Cap Property Taxes

An original copy of this editorial published at the Daily Herald on June 19,2015

By Adam Andrzejewski

Ever-escalating property tax bills are causing real pain for Illinois families.

Last year, more than 10,000 DuPage County families were delinquent and faced a tax sale. In downstate communities like Effingham people are moving to “Shouses” – shed/houses – to avoid property taxes. In communities like Addison, Villa Park, and many areas of Cook County, a homeowner’s monthly property tax payment now reviles their mortgage payment.

Of course, Illinois is ranked second highest of the fifty states on property taxes.

More and more, we are renting our private homes and commercial properties from local units of government: school districts, junior college, municipalities, townships, park districts, libraries, etc. Sure, it’s ‘private property,’ but you’re paying a tax bill that looks more and more like rent.

How has this happened?

One factor is artificially inflated public employee salaries and pensions as shown in the data posted online at OpenTheBooks.com. For example, many school district treasurers out-earn the state treasurer; park district managers are out-earning the state director of parks; 47 village managers make more than every governor of the 50 states.

Just in the last five years, the number of educators earning more than $100,000 has doubled to 17,000. By 2017, more than 10,000 educators will enjoy a taxpayer guaranteed lifetime pension exceeding $100,000 per year.

In DuPage County things aren’t better. Currently, the top ten county employees in total make $2.021 million. In 2011, a county engineer earned $340,147 and then retired. Last year, Nancy Wolfe, a first assistant state’s attorney, earned $248,083, retired, and then was recently re-hired by the county board as an ethics consultant!

Recent Daily Herald headlines regarding blatant waste, misallocation of resources and alleged fraud at the College of DuPage (COD) and the DuPage County Forest Preserve have further eroded taxpayer trust. Although the new COD Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton and the “Clean Slate” board majority are aggressively instituting reforms, across other units of government in DuPage and Illinois, regular people don’t see much accountability for bad public actors.

Families and taxpayers need a freeze – a “timeout period” to catch up on property tax payments. Since 2008, home values in DuPage County and across Illinois fell, but our property taxes exponentially increased. That’s not fair. A freeze followed by hard caps helps squeeze-out the public excesses like misallocation of resources, waste, and outright corruption.

Hard statewide property tax caps empower citizens with veto power on any increases beyond inflation (CPI). This policy properly realigns political power: government must persuade us rather than simply coerce taxpayers on large hikes, special projects and other considerations. The current property tax caps are a sieve with 26 exceptions – including debt/bond payments. The exceptions have become the rule.

Since 2010, our organization, For The Good of Illinois, advocated this property tax proposal, “Freeze, Cut, and Cap.” Polling indicated huge majorities of support with 62 percent of Democrats and 87 percent of Republicans in agreement. Recent polling confirms similarly high support.

On politics and public policy, many Illinoisans feel that “if anything happens for the good of the people, it’s entirely by accident.” The politicians need to show us it’s different this time. As a partisan budget war on spending and taxing threatens to push Illinois further into the ditch, Governor Bruce Rauner, Speaker Madigan and the state legislature must seize this unique bipartisan moment on taxes.

During the primary and general election, Rauner campaigned on hard property tax caps, won the election, and has staunchly backed the legislation. It’s good non-partisan policy that protects the integrity of private home ownership and properly gives job-creating businesses clarity regarding future tax costs.

It’s time to slap hard caps on our property taxes.

Adam Andrzejewski is the founder of For The Good of Illinois and the transparency website, OpenTheBooks.com.

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