Both candidates in the Republican primary for the 56th state House District see fixing escalating property taxes as a key to keeping Illinois livable, but they offer different approaches to tackling the problem.
Charlotte Kegarise, a 24-year member of the Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 school board, says school funding reform is a major step toward relieving homeowners' property tax burden.
But Schaumburg Township District Library Trustee Jillian Rose Bernas believes a 1 percent cap on property tax increases, as well as greater financial self-discipline by elected officials at all levels of government, are necessary to get the job done.
Both are in the March 20 race for the opportunity to represent their party in the November general election against four-term Democratic incumbent and fellow Schaumburg resident Michelle Mussman.
Kegarise said District 54 receives only about 10 percent of its funding from the state, and year to year there's been great uncertainty about how much will truly be received.
With more than 80 percent of a local homeowner's tax bill going to schools, placing a greater amount of responsibility on the state should not only lower property taxes overall but ensure that education funding is more equitable across Illinois, Kegarise said.
"It's hard to say we need this (property tax funding) to run our schools or our library when we know there's people there that are being forced out of their homes," Kegarise said. "If we have just a little bit of reform in one place, it will trickle down and we will have reform in more places to get where we need to be."
Bernas said both the oversight of state government and the commitment of local leaders are needed to prioritize spending on the most vulnerable members of society -- such as the homeless and mentally ill -- rather than frontloading budgets with special-interest programs aimed at getting officials re-elected and then adding all the true needs on top.
"When it comes to property taxes, it is a vehicle for local governments to get the support that they need for the programs and projects that they need, but it is drowning our families," Bernas said. "And so when you have an issue that big, it really does need to be looked at by the state legislature and not just kick it back to local government."
As a local government official, Bernas said she puts a lot of the blame for inaction on this issue on Springfield.
"Our state is in a really bad financial place," she said. "I think it's going to take action now and it's going to take action by everyone."
The 56th District includes Schaumburg and parts of Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Bartlett, Hanover Park, Palatine, Rolling Meadows and Roselle.