Rauner details property tax freeze, but will it happen?

Gov. Bruce Rauner took aim at property taxes Wednesday, rejuvenating his campaign call to freeze rising costs and saying local governments have to cut expenses to make it happen.

He's proposing limiting a local government's total tax request to 2015 levels for the next two years. An exception would allow for taxes to rise above that level if there is new construction.

During his State of the State address to the General Assembly, Rauner pointed to DuPage County, where Chairman Dan Cronin won approval for legislation to allow the county board to eliminate some government agencies, such as fire protection, sanitary and mosquito abatement districts.

And Rauner said he wants what he's calling “employee empowerment zones,” areas where workers wouldn't be required to join a union. The idea is likely to encounter serious union and Democratic opposition.

Reducing costs, Rauner said, could lead to the property tax freeze he promised in the campaign.

“By implementing these reforms, we will give taxpayers and local governments the tools they need to freeze property taxes,” Rauner said.

Some Democrats are skeptical.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat, said many suburban schools get the vast majority of the money they need to operate from property taxes, so a freeze could spell trouble for them.

“We want to provide property tax relief. That's what they're asking for,” Kotowski said of suburban homeowners. “But they also understand what they're getting with that money.”

Rauner invited Wheeling resident Christine Dolgopol to Springfield for the speech to make his point, saying her property taxes rose from $1,100 in 1978 to $4,797 now.

“It's making homes more difficult to sell,” said state Sen. Michael Connelly, a Lisle Republican. “And it's also very difficult for our seniors that have to pay a stiff property tax bill that goes up every year.”

Rauner appointed Cronin and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti of Wheaton to look for ways to better consolidate local government agencies. Cronin said a first move could be extending the DuPage County legislation to the rest of the state. Lawmakers also could try to make it harder to create new government layers.

“Let's maybe agree that we could stop creating government for now,” Cronin said.

Freezing property taxes also could be difficult, given how attempts have gone in the past.

A proposal from suburban lawmakers to freeze how much government can levy if property values go down never reached former Gov. Pat Quinn's desk. Local government leaders have a lot of influence in Springfield and many lawmakers are former mayors or alumni of other government boards.

Still, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont said suburban lawmakers might band together on certain issues, letting their common geography trump political party from time to time.

“I think you'll see a lot of coalitions being built. Suburban Democrats have similar interests as suburban Republicans,” Radogno said.

Powerful union leaders are pushing back against Rauner's plans.

“Austerity isn't a path toward prosperity,” Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery said. “As teachers and public employees, we've endured plenty of shared sacrifice in our classrooms and communities.”

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