Phony property tax freeze introduced in Springfield

Phony property tax freeze introduced in Springfield

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

A new proposal to freeze property taxes for some Illinois counties and give referendum authority for other counties to vote on property tax freezes has been filed in the Illinois General Assembly.

But taxpayers should be wary – it’s not even close to what’s needed in a state where 1 in 6 homeowners are seriously underwater on their mortgages. In fact, it’s likely to make things even worse in the long run.

State Rep. Michelle Mussman, D-Schaumburg, filed an amendment to Senate Bill 851 on Oct. 26 that would freeze property taxes in Cook and the collar counties for two years and would allow other Illinois counties to organize referendums to freeze local property taxes.

Exemptions for homeowners would also increase. Starting in 2018, the possible property tax reduction under the senior citizens homestead exemption would be equalized and increased to $8,000 for all counties. The general homestead exemption would be equalized and increased to $10,000 for all counties.

Despite the increases in exemption amounts, Mussman’s proposed freeze will not guarantee homeowners any real relief in their tax bills over the next two years. The freeze exempts increases for debt service and pension payments, which taxpayers across the state are seeing as local pension systems slip further toward insolvency.

The amendment also fails to address the major cost drivers of property taxes in Illinois that drive up homeowners’ tax bills, such as Illinois’ highest-in-the-nation number of local governments, growing local pension costs, workers’ compensation costs and more.

The failure to address these cost drivers means local governments will resort to other means to cover their operations, debt and pension obligations. Some might simply borrow the money, some could drain cash reserves, and others could simply promise better pay and benefits to government workers after the freeze ends. And there’s nothing to stop counties and municipalities from enacting new local taxes, or increases in other taxes and fees.

Mussman’s proposal is pure politics. It fails to provide real relief for struggling residents.

Homeowners in Cook and the collar counties pay some of the highest property taxes in the state and in the nation. In Lake County, for example, residents have the highest property taxes in the state and the 21st-highest in the nation. The median property tax bill in Lake County totals nearly $7,000 annually.

Schaumburg, Mussman’s hometown, straddles Cook and DuPage counties. DuPage homeowners pay the second-highest property taxes in the state, and the 27th-highest in the country, with a median property tax bill of more than $6,200. Cook County residents’ property taxes rank No. 8 in the state, and No. 67 in the nation, with a median property tax bill just shy of $4,600 a year.

At first glance, Mussman’s pseudo-tax freeze might be appealing. Taxpayers are tapped out after lawmakers pushed through the largest permanent income tax hike in state history, and property taxes across the state continue to rise. Not to mention Illinois’ high sales tax burden or growing number of local taxes.

But homeowners shouldn’t be fooled. This proposal does nothing to solve the real cost drivers of property taxes, and doesn’t even guarantee that property taxes will remain stable over the length of the two-year freeze.

This is window dressing, pure and simple.

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