Senate bill would give voters authority to cut property taxes by referendum

Senate bill would give voters authority to cut property taxes by referendum

Since 1991, some Illinois counties have traded voters’ ability to influence reductions in property taxes for a statutory limit on their growth. A recent Senate bill, however, would restore voters’ ability to reduce property tax levies through referendums.

The growth in Illinoisans’ property tax burden can appear to know no bounds. But a recent Senate bill could empower taxpayers to have more say in what they pay.

An amendment to Senate Bill 2670, filed by state Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, would allow Illinoisans to reduce local taxing bodies’ property tax levies through voter referendum.

To land a property tax referendum on a ballot in a given taxing district, voters would need to collect a number of signatures amounting to least 10 percent of that taxing district’s voter turnout in the previous gubernatorial election.

The bill would specifically apply to voters residing in counties bound by the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, or PTELL, a statute under which growth in property tax extensions, or taxes billed, is limited in dozens of counties.

When PTELL isn’t enough

Passed in 1991, PTELL established limitations that regulate the rate at which non-home rule taxing districts could grow property tax extensions in the collar counties and in Cook County. Since 1996, voters in other Illinois counties have voted to implement PTELL through referenda. For counties subject to PTELL, annual property tax growth of non-home rule taxing districts may not exceed the lesser of 5 percent or the rate of inflation. There are exceptions to this, such as taxes for payments on bonds approved by voters, as well as tax increases approved through voter referendum.

Since its passage, PTELL has extended to 39 counties.

But as residents in these counties have discovered, even the limitations imposed by PTELL have failed to prevent property tax bills from soaring beyond the affordability of taxpayers. In fact, many households have seen property tax bills rise in spite of declining property values.

Rising property taxes have continued to weigh heavily on households across the state. The average property tax bill paid in Illinois jumped by nearly 50 percent between 2008-2015. The amendment proposed by McConchie would offer many taxpayers a mechanism for achieving property tax relief beyond what PTELL provides.

This bill shows taxpayers’ frustrations are increasingly registering with lawmakers in Springfield. While there’s much more lawmakers can do in the way of offering taxpayers property tax relief, SB 2670 would do its part by returning to them the authority to petition for reductions in levies.

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