In order to balance my checkbook, I am going to freeze your income.
If you’re saying that makes no sense, you are absolutely right. Yet, that is what Gov. Bruce Rauner, the Illinois Senate and even House Speaker Michael Madigan want to do.
Rauner has repeatedly called for a property-tax freeze, noting correctly that Illinois and New Jersey have the highest property tax rates in the country. Rauner mentions the property taxes whenever he talks about his efforts to balance the state budget.
But not a penny of property-tax revenue goes to the state, nor does it come out of the state’s pocket. Property taxes primarily fund public schools, although some money also goes to counties, municipalities, library and park districts, and other local governments.
On average, however, 67 percent of every Illinois property tax bill funds your local public schools.
That’s because this state has failed to adequately fund public schools for 30 years. This state ranks dead last in the nation in the percentage of the education budget it provides.
Yet, Democrats in the Illinois Senate this spring, in an effort to appease the Republican governor, voted to place a two-year freeze on property taxes in the process of passing a budget bill.
Republican senators refused to vote for that because the governor said he wanted a more permanent property-tax freeze and promised to veto the Senate bill.
Did I mention that property taxes have no impact at all on the state budget?
A study just released by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability contends that in the second year of a property-tax freeze, public schools would lose between $430 million to $830 million in Illinois.
“These cuts would hit all areas of the state,” the analysis contends. “Cook County would see an annual schools funding cut of between roughly $200 million and $360 million; the collar counties between $76 million and $214 million; and districts in the rest of the state, between $156 million and $250 million.
“On a per-pupil basis, these cuts amount to as much as $496 for every student in Cook County,” the Center claims, “$382 for every collar county student and $375 for every student in the rest of Illinois.”
And the study states the obvious to anyone who has followed the school funding crisis: “These cuts would come in the context of long-term disinvestment in Illinois public schools. Between fiscal year 2000 and FY 2015, after accounting for population growth and inflation, the state of Illinois has reduced spending on K-12 public schools by over $1 billion, or about 13 percent.
“Partly as a result, the state of Illinois pays a lower share of the cost of K-12 education than nearly any other state in the country, shifting the massive burden onto local property taxes.”
This is no secret to the governor or members of the state Legislature.
Yet, faced with a state financial crisis caused by mismanagement and corruption, rather than address that problem, the elected leaders keep talking about a property-tax freeze.
House Speaker Michael Madigan was the latest to join the chorus. Madigan over the weekend said he would agree to a property-tax freeze, if the governor were prepared to spend more state money on the Chicago Public Schools.
Madigan is largely responsible for creating this problem. He has never been a champion of spending on public education outside of Chicago. And his law firm has made a fortune on property-tax appeals cases.
This state is rotten to the core. Instead of addressing the real problem, the state budget and state debt, Rauner and Madigan want to appease taxpayers by freezing their property taxes, which will hurt public schools.
It’s a bait-and-switch tactic to make voters feel better about a state that can’t pay its bills. With the ship of state taking on water, elected officials want to throw your children overboard.
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