Editorial: Task force offers little help for cutting property taxes
According to its draft report, the 88-member Illinois Property Tax Relief Task Force and its seven subcommittees met at least 35 times between August and December, under a legislative mandate to outline by Dec. 31 "short-term and long-term administrative, electoral, and legislative changes needed to create short-term and long-term property tax relief for homeowners."
What the task force apparently is offering, at least eight days late, is a head-scratching hodgepodge of ideas that seem more inclined to add to property tax confusion and controversy than to lead to meaningful legislation.
Republicans like Elmhurst Rep. Deanne Mazzochi and Palatine Rep. Tom Morrison, both members of the task force, complain that the report is invalidated by a refusal by the Democratic majority to consider Republican proposals. They have a legitimate point. But a larger question may be whether the report truly provides a serious blueprint for developing anything like meaningful property tax reform.
Granted, the 36-page report does make nods toward some promising areas for legislative attention -- things like consolidating government units and school districts, reviewing TIF allocations, shifting the burden for education funding and equalizing systems across the state for assessing property values. But all these are notions that have been discussed for years, and the task force does next to nothing to demonstrate the real financial impact of any of them or show how implementing them will reduce local property tax bills.
That failing is particularly grievous when it comes to other task force recommendations that seem to suggest property taxes can be reduced by adding new taxes elsewhere, as by increasing income taxes or placing sales taxes on services that are currently exempted from them. Even if there are merits to such approaches, which seem to run counter to the basic objective of reducing the tax burden, the report fails to provide any substantial data to show their impact or how they could work.
Grayslake Democratic state Rep. Sam Yingling responded to Republican complaints about their ideas being overlooked by saying the report is not yet final and minority party members didn't offer edits including their proposals. But Mazzochi, Morrison and others have been quick to suggest in press releases such actions as capping property taxes for seniors, reducing unfunded mandates and implementing targeted pension reforms. So, if Democrats are serious about the inclusiveness suggested in the report's specific declaration that "it will take multiple changes to effect real change for the largest number of Illinoisans," presumably there is still time for them to prove it.
Note, however, that the Republicans' ideas aren't any more detailed or defined than the pie-in-the-sky ruminations in the existing draft.
All this would seem to suggest that four months and 35 committee meetings later, the governor and General Assembly will begin the next legislative session no closer materially to property tax reforms that will instill public appreciation and confidence than they were back in August. So, if lawmakers do produce legislation intended to reduce property taxes, it will have to be based on more substantive foundations than they've been provided so far.