Amendment 1 is a property tax hike in disguise

Passage of Amendment 1, on the November ballot, would put Illinoisans’ pocketbooks at risk of another hit during a time when it is already difficult to make ends meet.

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Voters in the June 28 primary. Amendment 1 is on the November ballot.

Voters in the June 28 primary. Amendment 1 is on the November ballot.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

You may wonder why anyone would be against the proposed change to the Illinois Constitution at the top of the Nov. 8 ballot that proponents call the “Workers’ Rights Amendment.”

Don’t ask me — ask Deb Cohorst.

Cohorst is a mother, grandmother, retiree and resident of Effingham, Illinois. For now. If the deceptively dubbed “Workers’ Rights Amendment,” or Amendment 1, passes, Cohorst might be forced to leave the state she has called home for almost 40 years.

“My husband and I really don’t want to leave, but we may not have a choice,” Cohorst said. “This amendment would be devastating to not only my family but any family.”

Why? Amendment 1 is a potential property tax hike in disguise that could hurt low-income families and seniors on fixed incomes. In a state that leads the nation in foreclosures, homeowners can’t afford higher costs.

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Amendment 1 would allow government union bosses to collectively bargain over new, broad contract topics such as “economic welfare,” which could include anything from affordable housing to preventing advancements in technology. The more subjects available for government unions to bargain over and the longer negotiations take, the greater the potential cost to all Illinois workers — which would be reflected in higher property tax bills.

In Cook County, the median homeowner could pay at least an additional $2,935 in property taxes during the next four years if voters approve Amendment 1. In Cohorst’s home of Effingham County, property taxes on the typical home would rise by $743.

Property taxes already eat up approximately 7% of Cohorst’s fixed income. Increases make life in Illinois less feasible for her family.

“It scares me we may have to move,” she said. “I have friends in neighboring states, and they cannot believe what we’re paying in property taxes. I am paying more for the property tax on my half-acre lot than my three out-of-state friends’ property taxes combined.”

If Amendment 1 does not pass, government workers would still keep their right to collectively bargain. Contrary to messaging from its supporters, workers would lose no rights and no workers would lose their jobs.

But its passage would mean Illinoisans’ pocketbooks could take another hit during a time of record inflation, when it is already difficult to make ends meet. We in Illinois pay more for necessities than our counterparts in most other states, thanks to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s doubled gas tax (which will go back into effect next July 1), automatic gas tax increases and the second-highest property taxes in the nation.

Life is not cheap for Illinoisans, and Amendment 1 risks driving up the total cost.

For many Illinois homeowners and small businesses, that price may no longer be worth paying. Illinois lost a record-breaking number of residents in 2021. According to the Illinois Issues polls from the University of Illinois Springfield and NPR, the No. 1 reason cited in 2019 for moving out of Illinois was high taxes. Amendment 1 and its implications may just force the decision for many who have been considering a move for a long time.

Cohorst may not get a choice. For her, a vote for Amendment 1 means a vote to exile her and struggling taxpayers like her to another state.

President Barack Obama once said, “Elections have consequences.” Voters who don’t heed that, either by failing to vote or by failing to help stop Amendment 1, will put a tax burden on themselves as well as on their neighbors.

The best way to protect Illinois workers’ prosperity and prevent more of them from moving away is to vote “no” to adding Amendment 1 to the state’s constitution.

Mailee Smith is director of labor policy and staff attorney at the Illinois Policy Institute.

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