House passes phony property tax freeze, bill dies in Senate

House passes phony property tax freeze, bill dies in Senate

The politically motivated freeze would not address key cost drivers or protect Illinois homeowners from property tax increases.

A limited property tax freeze measure has passed the Illinois House of Representatives and now sits in the state Senate. However, the legislation actually does little to protect Illinois homeowners from rising tax bills.

But the freeze is in all likelihood dead, as the bill will not be called for a vote in the Senate, and state senators have gone home without even considering it.

An amendment to Senate Bill 851 passed out of the House Nov. 8 with bipartisan support. The final vote was 75-32, with one “present” vote. State Rep. Michelle Mussman, D-Schaumburg, filed the property tax freeze amendment and withdrew two previous versions.

Like the prior amendments, House Amendment 3 provides a two-year property tax freeze for Cook and the collar counties, and equalizes and increases the senior citizens and general homestead exemptions. It would also allow counties outside of Cook and the collar counties to hold referendums on property tax freezes. The amendment also added an exemption for long-time homeowners.

But because the amendment doesn’t address cost drivers – and exempts pension payments and debt service from the freeze – there’s little reason to expect property tax bills will stop rising.

The freeze is pure politics.

By adding and increasing exemptions for certain homeowners, lawmakers can return to their constituents touting efforts to lower property tax bills – without going after the real drivers of Illinois’ high property taxes.

Taxpayers are looking for a break, especially after the General Assembly passed the largest permanent income tax hike in state history in July. Add in the fact that nearly 1 in 6 Illinoisans are seriously underwater on their mortgages – 70 percent higher than the national average. And don’t forget Illinois’ high sales tax burden, growing number of local taxes and some of the highest property taxes in the nation.

It’s no wonder the prospect of a property tax freeze, in any form, seems like a good deal.

But the reality is, there’s little proof this freeze will actually help homeowners in the long run. If this freeze is enacted, local governments have a wide range of options to simply buy time until the freeze is over and then raise taxes. Some local governments could simply go into debt, spend cash reserves, or promise generous raises and perks to government workers after the freeze is over.

And there’s no guarantee that property taxes will even stay frozen. Local governments will have the ability to levy higher property taxes to cover pension payments and debt service – which means property taxes could still go up anyway.

If state lawmakers want to see real property tax reform, they should implement reforms to address some of the fundamental cost drivers of Illinois property tax bills: Illinois’ highest-in-the-nation number of local governments, local pension costs, unfair government-union bargaining powers and more.

Without reforms aimed at addressing local costs, this property tax freeze is just window dressing.

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