Rauner: Voters should decide on future property tax hikes

When Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed preventing most property tax hikes as part of his State of the State Address in February, the agenda he released said he wanted to "freeze property taxes for two years."

But the outline of his plans he's given lawmakers who are meeting privately to try to craft a state budget no longer makes any reference to the two-year timetable, and a spokeswoman says the governor wants voters to decide if taxes should "ever be raised."

"The governor's agenda freezes property taxes and empowers voters to decide via referendum if their property taxes should ever be raised," spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said. "Illinois has among the highest property taxes in the country and we need to get them under control by empowering voters."

The outline says local governments wouldn't be able to ask for more in taxes than they did in the 2015 taxing year, with some exceptions that provide for new construction or government consolidation.

The outline given to lawmakers makes clear that clamping down on property tax hikes is something that will at least be considered as they try to meet their May 31 deadline to make a budget.

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.

Barrington Area Unit District 220 board President Brian Battle said he thinks the existing state law that limits the tax increase governments can ask for is a good one.

Plus, he says, the state has its own budget problems to deal with.

"I don't understand why property taxes are an issue for the state," Battle said.

Suburban mayors pushed back against a property tax freeze in a letter in March, showing a freeze might not be easy to do.

"This additional one-two punch to local governments will take away the ability to fund the rising costs of basic government services and public safety pensions, which have been well-documented as unsustainable," the letter said. The proposed tax freeze is part of Rauner's Turnaround Agenda, a plan that includes trying to change the rules for unions in Illinois and adopting laws attempting to make the state more friendly for businesses.

Rauner has said potential state tax hikes can only be talked about after lawmakers approve his agenda. He's getting an assist from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, which starts this week airing TV ads targeting suburban Democrats and pushing for a property tax freeze.

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