Analysis shows loopholes abound to get around property tax freezes
A fast-moving bill to freeze property taxes in Cook and adjacent counties for two years isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds for tax-hungry local governments nor as good as it sounds for tax-weary homeowners, fiscal analysts say.
“It’s shenanigans,” Ted Dabrowksi, founder of Wirepoints Illinois Financial News, told Prairie State Wire. “The point of the legislation is for lawmakers to look good in the eyes of the homeowners. There are plenty of ways for the locals to get around it, and even if they don’t, it becomes a good excuse for even larger tax increases once the freeze is over.”
The proposal is an amendment to Senate Bill 851 introduced during the first week of the fall veto session.
A Wirepoints analysis shows that many circumstances allow a government unit to exempt itself from the property tax freeze, such as if property taxes are designated for repayment of bonds or for pension payments. In another case, some “qualified” school districts are exempted from the freeze, and any district on the State Board of Education’s “financial watch” status list is exempt.
In addition, any district that’s on “early warning” status and has been granted a “hardship” exemption by the state superintendent is exempt.
WirePoints is looking into other possible scenarios.
Illinois is consistently among the three states with the highest property taxes, usually behind only New Jersey, which like Illinois has a very high income tax rate. But Illinois has higher property taxes than all states that have competitive income tax rates, according to an analysis by the Illinois Policy Institute.
In Chicago, the increases never seem to end. In late August, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced a $225 million increase in property taxes, which will cost the average homeowner another $177 a year; more than half of the increase will go toward funding teachers’ pensions.
The increase is on top of last year’s $250 million tax hikes and means that city taxpayers have coughed up about a half-billion dollars just for schools since 2015, equaling $1.06 billion in total tax hikes.
Last year marked the third consecutive year that Illinois lost more residents than any other state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In a 2016 poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, 47 percent of respondents said they would like to leave, mainly because of taxes.