How to stop Chicago politicians from continuing to hike property taxes

How to stop Chicago politicians from continuing to hike property taxes

A taxpayer bill of rights would put checks on politicians eager to hike taxes in one of the nation’s most over-taxed cities.

Many Chicagoans received unwelcome news in July as the first round of property tax bills from the record 2015 property-tax hike arrived in mailboxes. The average city homeowner will see an increase of 12.8 percent, or $400, on his or her tax bill.

This sudden increase will come as a shock to many Chicagoans who already suffer under the highest sales tax, the third-highest commercial property tax and some of the highest residential property taxes in the nation. Given the city’s staggering $34 billion in pension debt, another property-tax hike is likely looming.

The worst part for taxpayers is that none of the tax-hike dollars will result in improved services – they’ll all go toward pensions. And without reform, there’s no telling when the city will stop tapping property owners for a bailout.

But if Chicagoans had a taxpayer bill of rights, politicians would have to ask permission from homeowners and businesses before they could raise taxes again.

Colorado adopted a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, as an amendment to the Colorado Constitution in 1992. The Colorado TABOR requires any government to seek voter approval before imposing a new tax or raising existing tax rates. The TABOR also contains a formula that determines how much in taxes a government can collect in a year, based on increases in population and inflation. If more tax revenues are collected than the formula allows, the governing entity is required to reimburse the excess money back to the taxpayers.

A provision in Colorado’s TABOR allows the government to keep excess revenues if the taxpayers give voter approval through a ballot initiative. Anytime there is a proposal to raise taxes or keep excess tax revenues, the ballot must provide the following: information on the governing entity’s current and previous four years of spending, the proposed tax increase in percentages and estimated dollar amounts, and summaries of support for and opposition to the proposed tax increase.

If Chicago had a TABOR, the government would not have been able to suddenly impose higher property taxes that are about to hit Chicagoans’ pocketbooks. Moving forward, Illinois should adopt a TABOR to protect its residents from seemingly endless tax increases. This will allow for businesses and residents to better predict how much they will owe in property taxes each year. It will also give peace of mind to potential homebuyers who may choose to not invest in Chicago real estate because of unpredictable property taxes.

A TABOR would also encourage transparency in Chicago’s government. Elected officials would be required to give an account of what they intend to do with taxpayer dollars before raising taxes. This is especially needed, considering Chicago’s reputation as being the corruption capital of America. A TABOR would also discourage politicians from making unfunded spending promises that would require a future tax hike.

Beleaguered homeowners and over-taxed businesses should have a say in the matter when politicians want to raise their taxes. Chicagoans deserve the empowerment, stability and transparency that would come with a taxpayer bill of rights.

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Taxpayer Bill of Rights
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