Editorial: If lawmakers want to offer more than slogans on property tax control, they can start with grants to local communities
A group representing Illinois' mayors stepped to the podium Wednesday to plead again for the state to restore some of the Local Government Distributive Funds they've been steadily losing in recent years.
Are lawmakers listening?
They should be.
As the 2022 primary campaign season heats up, promises of helping ease the burden of property taxes no doubt will be prominent on the lips and in the mailings of candidates for the legislature. But the reality is that state lawmakers don't have a lot of tools for reducing local property taxes.
But they do have the LGDF. For years, the state routinely distributed 10% of state income tax revenues to local governments. Local governments used the money to fix roads, sidewalks and sewers, fund local operations and address any number of needs specific to their communities.
But in 2011 as Illinois' financial picture steadily deteriorated, lawmakers began cutting back on their support for local governments -- to the point that the proportion of income taxes going to local communities has dwindled to just more than 6% this year.
Local needs, of course, have not dwindled. So, where do municipalities get the funds to make up what they've lost? Property taxes, of course, the only significant funding source they have some control over.
So, if lawmakers are going to come to us in another election year with promises of helping manage the strain of some of the heaviest property tax demands in the country, they ought to have a good answer on what they've done to help with the LGDF.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker correctly notes that some legislative actions in recent years have helped local communities. The state has provided more road funding, yes, and the legalization of marijuana and expanded gambling have given some communities new sources of income. But none of these kinds of legislative byproducts -- many of which, by the way, also come with demands of their own on community health and safety resources -- replaces the stability or consistency that a routine return of funds to local communities can provide.
In a Rockford speech last week, Pritzker agreed the state "should always try to do more for local governments," and earlier this month, he predicted the state will have a $1.7 billion surplus at the end of this fiscal year.
No reasonable Illinoisan really thinks the state is so flush with money that it has a couple billion dollars lying around to play with. But clearly the state's financial picture has improved. That should translate into doing "more for local governments," too.
Some members of the "Restore LGDF" coalition who spoke Wednesday said that even a slight bump in the grants could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars for their budgets. Many said an increase to just 8% of state income tax funds would have a significant impact.
It's not the 10% they once enjoyed, to be sure, but it at least would be movement in the right direction. State politicians who really care about property taxes will keep that in mind as they campaign for local votes in the coming months.