This Christmas, property taxes are robbing the McCallisters
Since 1990, the owners of 671 Lincoln Avenue have paid more than $783,000 in property taxes when adjusting for inflation.
It’s a robbery even Kevin McCallister couldn’t prevent.
In the small Cook County village of Winnetka, Illinois, sits the filming site of John Hughes’ 1990 Christmas classic, “Home Alone.” Located in New Trier Township, the house is something of a local legend as it made Chicago-area news when it changed owners in 2012.
But one look at the property taxes alone would send most running out of the neighborhood.
In 2016, the property tax bill was $36,500 and in 2017 the bill dipped to less than $33,600, according to the Cook County Assessor’s Office.
However, this drop off is little consolation considering how much the owners have paid in the years since the movie’s release. Since 1990, the owners of 671 Lincoln Avenue have paid more than $783,000 in property taxes when adjusting for inflation.
And though the owners of the “Home Alone” house have paid through the nose when it comes to property taxes, other Illinois residents have it even worse. Cook County is the eighth most expensive county in Illinois for property taxes. The highest property tax bills come in the collar counties, all five of which have higher median property tax rates than Cook County.
The county with the highest property taxes in the state is Lake County, where the median property tax bill is nearly $7,000 a year. And on top of being the most expensive in the state, it’s also one of the most expensive in the nation, ranking 21st out of more than 3,000 counties across the U.S.
Over the past 50 years, Illinois property taxes have grown 2.5 times faster than inflation, 14 times faster than Illinois’ population, and 3.3 times faster than the typical Illinoisan’s household income.
Many politicians at the Statehouse have floated the idea of a property tax freeze. However, too many of these proposals have exempted increases to pay for debt service and skyrocketing pension costs, meaning homeowners would enjoy little protection from rising bills. And hardly any have shielded residents from local governments hiking other taxes and fees to get around the freeze.
Even if property taxes were truly frozen, lawmakers would still have a lot of work to do. Some of the nation’s highest property taxes would still be putting the hurt on Illinois homeowners – 1 out of 6 are already seriously underwater on their mortgages.
Illinois needs comprehensive property tax reform that addresses the cost drivers behind Illinois’ high cost of government.
Illinois’ tax structure punishes middle-class residents who choose to become homeowners by constantly raising property taxes in order to pay for Illinois’ expensive and redundant layers of local government. The Land of Lincoln has nearly 7,000 units of local government, the most in the nation.
And those various layers of government require a paid staff of government employees, receiving salaries, health care benefits and pensions. All of which adds on to residents’ property taxes.
But despite these high property taxes, local government pension debt is skyrocketing. From 2010 to 2016, Illinois’ local pension debt increased by nearly 49 percent, going up to nearly $57 billion in 2016, up from $38.2 billion in 2010.
And in addition to hiking property taxes, municipalities around the state have resorted to implementing new local taxes on everything from gas to prepared food.
If Illinoisans want a lower property tax bill in time for next year’s holiday season, they should tell policymakers to embrace aggressive local government consolidation as well as other cost-saving measures. Otherwise Illinois homeowners will continue to feel robbed.