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updated: 11/14/2017 1:30 PM

Property tax freeze is politics, not a solution

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By Steven Strack
Guest columnist

This year, the state of Illinois managed to pass a bill that provides a new method of funding our schools. While far from perfect, it was a necessary step in a continuing journey toward Illinois' constitutionally mandated responsibility to primarily fund education in the state. Now your state legislators (including Democratic state Rep. Sam Yingling from here in Grayslake, a co-sponsor of SB 851) seek to undermine the progress made in order to score political points in advance of their reelection bids.

SB 851 is a bill that would freeze property tax extensions for two years with limited exceptions. It also increases certain other tax exemptions thereby further reducing the tax base. While I understand the urge to support such a bill (I am a taxpayer as well), to do so is to put school districts around the state on a path to devastation.

Here's what passage of SB 851 would mean to Community Consolidated School District 46 in Grayslake, a district that is rated at Tier II with a 66 percent adequacy rating under the new Evidence Based Funding Model:

• Immediate layoffs and reduced services for students;

• Immediate and lasting threat to revenues that are already deemed inadequate by the state;

• Revenue loss of over $1 million within the first three years after passage;

• Cumulative losses of more than $10 million within 10 years of passage;

The indifference of our legislators when it comes to the impact on schools caused by this bill is chilling but not unexpected. Rather, it is a furtherance of the overall indifference of our state government to meet its obligations.

This bill also shows a misunderstanding of the situation at hand. Yes, property taxes are high. Yes, school districts generally account for the largest part of property tax bills.

However, the cause is not runaway spending by school districts despite what some may claim. Rather, the cause is a combination of the structure of the education funding system itself and the unwillingness of the state to contribute a significantly larger share of tax dollars to schools.

We will not see property tax relief unless and until our legislators finally realize that in order to reduce the property tax burden, they will have to significantly increase state tax dollars directed toward education. CCSD 46 relies on property taxes for more than two-thirds of its revenue. There is no expense reduction to be made that will offset that amount in any significant way that will not severely impact students and the community.

It's not a popular position to advocate for continued high taxes, but that's not what I'm doing. What I am advocating for is an actual solution to the problem.

A tax freeze is not the solution, it's a Band-Aid that doesn't even cover the wound. It's window dressing designed with one goal in mind: the reelection of those who vote for it.

Steven Strack, of Hainesville, is president of the Community Consolidated School District 46 Board of Education. The views expressed in this guest column are his own and do not represent the school district or the board of education.

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