Like many of you, I received my annual property tax bill in the mail this past week and cringed.
My wife and I bought our dream home a decade ago, when our eldest daughter was just a baby and her two sisters were just dreams to fill empty bedrooms.
Despite the joy of living in a home we love, we are reminded every year we will never truly own it.
Though we paid for it, we have to give money to the government to hang on to what is “ours.”
And in Illinois this predicament is more acute than anywhere else.
In fact, this year the Land of Lincoln edged out New Jersey to become the state that taxes property owners the highest.
That’s not good for families. It’s not good for neighborhoods. And it certainly is not good for our state’s economy.
With all things being otherwise equal, would you choose to build a new business in a state where you will be taxed at a property tax rate higher than just about anywhere else?
I didn’t think so.
You’ll hear plenty of malarkey from government worker unions about how Illinoisans are under-taxed. Don’t believe it.
The property tax bills we are receiving this month are a testament to the falsehood of those claims.
Not only are Illinois property taxes exorbitant, they are an integral part of an immoral system in Cook County in which business owners are forced to hire politically-connected lawyers to get their property tax bills reduced.
And guess what, the most politically connected lawyer of them all is House Speaker Michael Madigan. He has become a wealthy man handling Cook County property tax appeals.
Is it any wonder property tax reform has yet to arrive in Illinois?
As my former Illinois Policy Institute colleague Ted Dabrowski notes, property taxes roseat three times the rate of family incomes from 1990 to 2014. That’s not a recipe for making families more prosperous.
Or the state of Illinois for that matter.
When I look at my own property tax bill, I see a need for reform.
Most of my property taxes go to a rural school district that has limited curriculum options for students. Its just too small to serve the students well. It needs to merge with a neighboring district, but it has failed to do so.
There is an old saying Illinois, the hardest animal to kill is a school mascot.
That’s why Florida, a slightly geographically larger state and the home of 6.6 million more people, has 74 school districts while the Land of Lincoln has 970.
In fact, Illinois ranks first in the nation for the number of local governments.
There isn’t a stadium — or prison — in the state capable of holding all of our elected officials.
If we are serious about containing taxes, consolidating and eliminating local governments is essential. Democrat and Republican politicians have been giving this lip service for decades.
But little has happened.
Both political parties have vested interests in maximizing the number of boards and councils their people can be elected to.
Illinois’ open spigot of tax dollars pouring into local governments has made bureaucrats far too comfortable. They have little incentive to seek consolidation with other entities and have become complacent with the status quo.
It’s time to freeze the state’s property taxes.
Sadly, there are many in the legislature who say residents of this state don’t pay enough in taxes.
You’ll hear their voices often when there is a push to jack up the income tax or when they call for a tax hike on small business owners. When they make their arguments, they don’t mention the extraordinary property tax burden already borne by the state’s residents and businesses.
When you sign your check to the local tax collector, ask yourself if you’re getting your money’s worth.
If you are like me and find that the answer is “no,” pick up the phone and call your lawmakers and let them know its time for a property tax freeze.
Scott Reeder, a veteran statehouse journalist, is a freelance reporter in the Springfield area. He can be reached at ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.
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