Lawmakers to homeowners: ‘You’ll get nothing and like it’

Lawmakers to homeowners: ‘You’ll get nothing and like it’

In a matter of hours, Illinoisans saw bipartisan opposition to property tax relief and bipartisan support for higher property taxes.

Every politician in Illinois talks a big game when it comes to property taxes.

Some say those bills are bloated because Illinoisans don’t pay enough in state income taxes. Others say it’s because the cost drivers behind those bills have grown wild for years. Just about everyone agrees they’re too high.

Fortunately, lawmakers appeared to have found some common ground on one sensible step toward property tax relief earlier this year – limiting growth in administrative spending. But even as soaring property tax bills slide into mailboxes across the state, House members put the kibosh on reform.

House Bill 4789 wouldn’t cut funding. It wouldn’t cut services. It wouldn’t change anything about curriculum. It would simply cap growth in administrative spending that has diverted far too much money away from the classroom. Specifically, districts would only be able to grow administrative spending each year up to the rate of growth in the Consumer Price Index or 5 percent, whichever is less.

The Metropolitan Planning Council produced a report in 2017 that found Illinois school districts spent $518 per student on “general administration” – the second-highest total in the nation and more than double the national average. Despite that high spending, Illinois’ educational outcomes lag the nation.

Illinois needs to rein in its spending on school administration. Poor priorities are one reason residents aren’t seeing a great return on their investment in public education, a case in point being Illinois’ glut of school districts, which too often serve as needless layers of bureaucracy adding little to classroom success.

Reducing the growth in those administrative costs can help bring down property tax bills, or at the very least give residents a little more bang for their property tax buck.

HB 4789 had bipartisan backing. It was introduced by state Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard. Reps. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, and Tom Morrison, R-Palatine, signed on as chief co-sponsors. And it passed through committee on a unanimous vote.

But on April 27, the House axed the bill, with only 20 members voting yes. Opposition ranged from downstate Republicans to Chicago Democrats.

The Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance, which represents administrators who might see their pay hikes take a hit, opposed the bill. Chicago Public Schools also filed in opposition. And it was especially disheartening to see the Illinois Federation of Teachers express opposition. Ballooning management costs are in direct conflict with teachers’ interests, and it’s not like IFT members are immune from high property taxes.

So lawmakers can’t bring themselves to vote for a sensible spending cap like HB 4789 – what relief can they provide homeowners?

How about a massive unfunded mandate that would hike property taxes immediately?

The day before killing Breen’s bill, the House approved a measure mandating a $40,000 a year minimum salary for all public school teachers in Illinois. The vote was 61-38. A handful of House Republicans voted for it. A handful of House Democrats voted against it.

That might sound like a righteous proposal for some residents in Cook and the collar counties. But in Carbondale, for example, the median household income is just under $20,000, meaning teachers fresh out of college would make double the typical household from their first day on the job.

So, in a matter of hours, Illinoisans saw bipartisan opposition to property tax relief and bipartisan support for higher property taxes.

As house hunting season heats up, let’s hope they change their tune.

Of course, everything in Springfield is charged in an election year. But it shouldn’t be too much to ask for the General Assembly to deliver meaningful steps toward long-needed relief on the biggest tax we pay.

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