Op-Ed: Illinois voters will have to force change at all levels of government to reduce property taxes

The 88-member Property Tax Relief Task Force charged with coming up with a plan to reduce property taxes was supposed to deliver an initial report to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the General Assembly on Halloween. The Center Square

The 88-member Property Tax Relief Task Force charged with coming up with a plan to reduce property taxes was supposed to deliver an initial report to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the General Assembly on Halloween. 

That didn’t happen. There was no treat for the state’s overtaxed homeowners this year. Just crickets.

That Oct. 31 deadline was enshrined in the very law that created the task force. Almost two weeks later, and still no initial report has materialized.

Optimistic property owners can wait for Dec. 31, when the task force’s final report is due, but I wouldn’t bet on swift action. Either find a way to turn your kids’ stash of candy into cash for the taxman or come up with a new side hustle because there’s a very good chance your property tax bill is going to go up again next year.

It’s not as if the task force hasn’t been meeting. But there’s a difference between talking a lot about a complex problem and delivering real solutions on an issue that affects nearly every taxpayer and public school student in the state.

The task force was given a big task – 90 days to come up with recommendations to solve one of the state’s most pressing problems – and it has yet to produce something other than meetings and summaries of those meetings.

If lawmakers hope to actually reduce property taxes in Illinois, they’ll need to be ready to push for government consolidation, school consolidation and changes to the state’s pension system to reduce promised benefits. Accomplishing any one of those three would be a big deal. Tackling all three would be nothing short of miraculous. Especially considering that the state’s pension protection clause states that promised benefits can’t be reduced. Furthermore, elected officials tend to shy away from upsetting all of their constituents in the same term.

The task force’s various subcommittees have heard testimony from experts on a variety of topics from across the state. But without a willingness to sacrifice some of the state’s sacred cows – including getting rid of the state’s pension protection clause – it’s going to be impossible for lawmakers to bring property taxes down. 

Professor David Merriman, a state public finance expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told a task force subcommittee in October that it would come down to what voters want. 

He’s right. Lawmakers seem almost powerless to reverse the property tax trends they helped create. Voters at every level of government in Illinois will have to force change.

The Center Square

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