When state Rep. Carol Sente walks the new district where she is running, she said the No. 1 issue is high property taxes.
Sente said she would like to provide a temporary solution by freezing the tax levy until property values rebound. But her opponent in the newly created 59th District, state Rep. Sidney Mathias, said that solution would hurt local taxing bodies.
The bill has already passed the House in the spring and awaits a vote in the Senate. It would freeze the levy unless the governing body obtained permission from voters to raise it.
Sente, a Democrat from Vernon Hills, said that while residents can appeal their property taxes, "it's a lot of work, and then government is still guaranteed a flat amount. Unless we really hold the tax levy flat, someone is still going to have increases in their taxes.
"And so that's why I like this bill, because it says unless voters vote via referendum the tax levy will be flat during these years when home values are dropping."
Mathias, a Republican from Buffalo Grove, said he has talked to some of the local school districts and found out one district actually had no change in the levy one year because of the existing tax cap that limits increases to inflation.
"They said, before that year, 'We had a reserve for, like, five years. And that one year, when it went to zero percent, it put us into the red.'
"And they felt that this bill would be devastating. How do you do a budget every year and go to referendum? To go every year to referendum to raise your levy? We (already) have a tax cap today."
Mathias said schools, unlike other taxing bodies, don't have other means of raising funds.
He feels that raising the levy according to the cost of living is reasonable.
"The concept of cost of living means cost of living, and why shouldn't you automatically get that cost of living in the levy?" he said.
Sente, however, said she has researched the numbers and looked at the reserves of local government.
"We're not saying forever," she added. "We are saying give people a break now."
She said people are leaving Lake County because they can't afford to live there.
She added, "This property tax issue is the core difference between (Mathias's campaign) and my campaign. I'm talking about what constituents are asking me for at the door -- for relief -- and Sid is responding to who he is talking to, and those are the units of local government and how they will respond."
"I don't agree with the fact that we can't look closer at our budgets and provide some relief and not devastate the services that are being provided."
Mathias took issue with Sente's remarks, saying, "When I knock on doors, I talk to individuals. I don't talk to government officials at the door."
He said he has his own solution, which is a bill to put a cap on assessments, "because your individual assessment also determines -- more so than the total levy -- where taxes are going."
He added that Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan phased out one bill he supported and that was one of the reasons property taxes went up so much.
"We wanted a tax cap on assessments," he said. "We got it -- I guess it's been now six or nine years ago -- but the speaker would only let us do it for three years. Then the next three years, he said, 'OK, we're going to do it but we're going to phase it out.' So when people ask me, 'Well, how come my assessment is going down and yet my taxes are going up?,' I tell them, 'If your exemption goes down, because you had an exemption based on the tax cap, and now that expires, all of a sudden your tax bill is going to go up, even if the levy is the same."