Chicago utility-tax hike shows need for taxpayer bill of rights
Under a taxpayer bill of rights, Chicago City Council would have to seek voter approval before raising taxes.
This has been a rough year for Chicago taxpayers. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has again called on Chicago City Council to raise taxes on residents – this time, by hiking the water-and-sewer tax. This latest blow comes right as Chicagoans are feeling the sting of the record $700 million property-tax hike passed in 2015 and are anticipating an additional $250 million in property-tax increases authorized under the state’s stopgap budget agreement.
The proposed water-and-sewer tax would increase over four years, starting at 7 percent the first year, then reaching 28 percent in year four. The average homeowner’s bill would increase by $50 in year one of the hike, and by $200 when the increases are fully phased in.
What’s worse, residents will receive no new services for these proposed taxes. Rather, the proceeds will go toward one of the city’s bankrupt pension funds. All residents will be affected, including homeowners, business owners and renters, who will bear the tax hike in the form of rent increases.
Chicago already has some of the highest property taxes in comparison with other major cities across the nation. In addition, Chicagoans pay a host of other taxes, including high gasoline taxes, a bottled-water tax and an amusement tax, to name just a few. New utility taxes will add to the already crushing weight of Chicagoans’ taxes.
These taxes are growing out of control. In fact, over the past 50 years, property taxes in Illinois have grown 2.5 times faster than inflation and 14 times faster than the state’s population. Illinoisans can no longer afford these increases: Since 1990, property taxes have also grown 3.3 times faster than Illinoisans’ median household income. Illinois residents, especially Chicagoans, need a break.
A taxpayer bill of rights could provide the kind of tax relief Illinoisans desperately need by limiting the amount of revenues the government can collect to the rate of inflation, adjusted for population growth. If the state or a local government wanted to introduce a new tax or raise existing rates above what the formula allows, that government would have to seek voter approval in advance via a ballot referendum. Most importantly, a taxpayer bill of rights would protect taxpayers by preventing politicians from raising taxes to enable out-of-control spending.
Illinois taxpayers have had enough. Illinois needs real tax reform.
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