Advisory referendum has Kane County voters angered, confused

Updated 10/11/2018 6:20 PM

A little-discussed Kane County advisory referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot has sparked rampant debate on local social media sites in recent weeks about the meaning and motivation behind it.

The ballot question asks: "Shall Kane County Oppose the General Assembly Instituting a 1% Property Tax Increase?" According to a variety of "What's Happening in …" Facebook pages, Kane County voters are confused about why the county board is asking their opinion on a nonexistent proposal. No state lawmaker has proposed a 1 percent property tax increase.

"Is Springfield actually considering such a ludicrous notion?" Eric Wedow asked in a post on the "What's Happening in Batavia?" Facebook group. "Are all 102 counties in IL putting this on the ballot? And honestly, why is something this ridiculous even on the ballot to begin with? They might just as well ask if voters would like a sharp stick in the eye. Who in their right mind would actually vote to support it?"

The ballot question also sparked confused conversations in the Aurora and Elgin versions of the "What's Happening in …" group pages, and heated discussion on the Nextdoor social networking site. Debate threads ranged from how to interpret the wording to calling the question a red herring to anger conservatives into flooding local polling places.

The true origin of the question relates to a report released by three economists from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago in May. The report suggests creation of a 1 percent statewide residential property tax. All the money generated by the tax would go to pay down the state's pension debt. The study puts Illinois' total pension debt at about $130 billion.

The increase would mean the owner of a $350,000 house would pay $3,500 more in property taxes every year until the pension debt is retired. The economists estimate that would take 30 years. The debt is so large, new taxes on legalized marijuana or financial transactions would not be enough to pay it off, they said.

The study made waves among conservative pundits, but it failed to spawn any actual legislation to make the tax increase a reality. Despite that, Kane and DuPage counties placed advisory questions on the November ballot to collect local views on such a tax increase.

The Kane County Board voted unanimously to put the question on the ballot Aug. 14 after first taking up the issue six days earlier at a special meeting of the county board's development committee.

"It is designed to allow the voters of our county to weigh-in on whether or not they believe the state of Illinois should raise property taxes 1 percent," said Kurt Kojzarek, committee chairman. "The only part I regret is the wording. You have to vote 'Yes' to oppose the tax increase. In the end, I hope we get some good empirical data that we can share with our state representative."

Kojzarek said the bipartisan, unanimous vote to place the question on the ballot shows it is not a tactic to fire up conservative voters.

The Kane County Board has no direct authority to stop any state legislation. It can only lobby state representatives on behalf of local voters.

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