Electoral Chicken Feed Disguised as a Tax Freeze

They call it “Veto Session”, but it really ought to be called “Propose Bills and Make Speeches That Can Be Used on Campaign Materials Session”.

Case in point: Senate Bill 851, which would require counties to freeze all property tax levies for two years, and would increase the real estate homestead exemption from $6,000 to $10,000 and would increase the Senior homestead exemption from $5,000 to $8,000.

Generally, I’d say that anything that lowers property taxes is a good thing, and I’d be in full support. What S.B. 851 does is give everyone in Illinois the same homestead and Senior exemption that was given to Cook County in May. However, if it wasn’t good enough to give to everyone outside Cook County then, what makes it such a good idea now? Why? Electoral politics, of course. The bill’s sponsor is considered a target in the November election and needs to burnish her credentials for the folks back home. I voted against S.B. 473 in May because it did nothing for the people in my district, and while it now gives us the same treatment as Cook County, the combination of this with the two-year freeze will do more harm than good.

And here’s why:

  • First of all, it paints all taxing districts with the same broad brush. There are plenty of taxing districts here in McHenry County that have held their levies flat for years, and in some instances decreased them. They don’t need that model of financial rectitude, the Illinois legislature, to tell them how to do their business.
  • Second, the combination of increased exemptions and the freeze will do nothing to lower property taxes; all it will do is shift that burden to renters and businesses. We’re having a hard enough time as it is attracting and keeping businesses in this county, we don’t need to drive up their tax burdens even further.
  • While property taxes are too high, S.B. 851 carves out an important exemption: debt. Local governments have in most cases already set their budgets for the current year. If this bill were to be enacted, they’d be driven into a situation of having to borrow to pay current bills. Raise your hand if you think that’s a good idea.

I’ll be the first to say we need property tax reform, I’ve been saying it for years. But you don’t get reform by offering up “gotcha” bills just before an election year. I spoke against the bill on the floor of the House, my comments are here:

Here’s the final clue that this bill was just electoral chicken feed. After passing the House, the Senate adjourned without taking it up.

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