Minister sees ballot question as property tax threat after nearly losing home

Minister sees ballot question as property tax threat after nearly losing home

The Rev. Phalese Binion worked to help people find affordable housing, but she didn’t truly understand the property tax problem until she bought her own home. Now the former union member sees a new property tax threat from Amendment 1.

When the Rev. Phalese Binion finally could afford her own home in Park Ridge, Illinois, she least expected to potentially lose it to high property taxes.

“When I purchased my home I didn’t understand the [tax] process until my first tax bill came: over $13,000 on a $98,000 home,” Binion said.

“This is not the American Dream. This is the American nightmare.”

Binion was familiar with property tax issues from serving residents with housing affordability problems and property tax appeals through the Westside Ministers Coalition. Following the rules didn’t lead to relief for those she served, or for herself.

“Community members would come into our office every day saying that the taxes were too high, and they were losing their homes,” she said. “I didn’t understand the process when I first started because I wasn’t a homeowner.”

“But, even then, I still understood that people were supposed to come in if there was an error and fill out the forms to correct the assessment. And still, I wasn’t seeing a whole lot of changes. [When I got my tax bill] I didn’t know what to do or who to go to. I tried implementing different exemptions that I could qualify for, but my property taxes are still too high.”

And property taxes are set to rise even faster should Amendment 1, otherwise known as the “Workers Rights Amendment,” pass on Nov. 8.

That first question on the ballot will ask Illinois voters about a “Proposed Amendment to the 1970 Illinois Constitution.” That’s Amendment 1.

Amendment 1 would insert four clauses into the Illinois Constitution that promise:

Illinoisans already pay the second-highest property taxes in the nation. High property taxes are a major reason taxpayers are fleeing to lower-tax states.

“Politicians say they’re advocating on behalf of families and that they want people to access homeownership, but then their constituents lose their homes. The owners of the house next to me and the house catty-corner across the street from me just walked away from them. The owner of the house across the street only fixed it up because he’s trying to sell it,” she said.

“My tax bill has gone down. It’s the lowest it has ever been, which is over $6,000 per year, but it is still incredibly high,” Binion said. “When I have vacancies on both sides of me and across the street, what am I really getting for my $500 a month in property taxes?”

Amendment 1 promises to increase this burden by expanding the scope of government union bargaining to virtually any topic. As the list of demands grows, Illinois taxpayers would be tasked with footing the bill for the higher costs of both new benefits and longer negotiations. States with more powerful government unions have both higher property tax rates and greater debt burdens.

“The commercial they have for the ‘Workers’ Rights Amendment’ is very misleading. They do not share that it only applies to government workers. On top of that, if you have harmful employees, what happens if they want to take away background checks for schools or in the medical field? Who is protecting students or patients? This amendment would allow them to undo those protections,” Binion said.

Government union workers, which make up 7% of the population in Illinois, already have some of the strongest rights in the nation. Rejecting Amendment 1 would not change their protected rights.

“People are losing their homes to taxes, and that’s just ridiculous. Amending the state constitution for the ‘Workers’ Rights Amendment’ will only make things worse. I am a former union member myself, and there are laws in place to protect union workers anyway, so who is this amendment really going to help?” she said.

“It is my heartfelt belief as a taxpayer, a former union worker and a homeowner that voting ‘no’ on this amendment won’t hurt unionized workers.”

Amendment 1’s language also bans voters or lawmakers from ever being able to implement changes. Rejecting Amendment 1 would protect taxpayers and lawmaker powers to fix bad policy and pass common-sense reforms to fix rising property taxes such as “hold-harmless” pension reform.

There’s still a chance to again turn homeownership in Illinois into the American Dream. Voters have a historic chance to reject a property tax hike Nov. 8.

“There has to be a change,” Binion said. “And the only thing we can do is vote.”

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!