Chris Kennedy, a Democratic candidate for governor of Illinois, ripped this state’s property tax system as “corrupt” and “extortion,” joining a chorus that now includes just about every politician in Illinois.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner was elected, in part, because he denounced this state’s property taxes as the highest in the nation.
Rauner has called for a property tax freeze and Democrats in the state Senate voted to do just that in the most recent session of the state Legislature, although the two-year cap they wanted wasn’t sufficient to gain Republican backing.
None of this posturing is new. Governors and state legislators have been screaming about high property taxes in this state for 30 years, and except for Dawn Clark Netsch, who ran for governor back in 1994, few have been willing to point out the real problem.
Property taxes are high because the state has failed to fulfill its constitutional mandate to fund public education.
This mandate was once considered so important that Article X of the Illinois Constitution is devoted to it. Netsch understood its importance because she was a member of the 1970 Constitutional Convention that wrote it.
“A fundamental goal of the People of the State is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities,” the Article states.
“The State shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services. Education in public schools through the secondary level shall be free. There may be such other free education as the General Assembly provides by law.
“The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.”
That’s a clear language. The goal is to educate every child in this state to their fullest potential and it is the state’s primary responsibility to fund that system of education.
Yet of all the money actually spent on public education in Illinois, this state contributes only 26 percent. Since state lawmakers have deliberately failed to adequately fund education, as directed by the Constitution, property taxpayers must pick up 67 percent of the cost.
At one point, under Gov. Jim Thompson, the state paid about 40 percent of the tab, but that was a long time ago.
Due to that reliance on property taxes, this state has the largest spending gap between poor and wealthy school districts in the nation.
Because property taxes are high, people who own homes and businesses in this state are pretty angry. Many of them don’t understand why property taxes have increased so much or how their property tax bills are calculated.
In the meantime, governors and state legislators continue to use property taxes as a campaign gimmick, while actually forcing them to skyrocket.
Democrats in the state Legislature pushed through a long-sought and needed school funding formula reform this spring, but failed to address the real issue: The lack of money for education.
The school funding mess in Illinois is a result of bi-partisan mendacity, which is another way of saying elected officials lie whenever they talk about education funding.
While they talk about freezing property taxes, they say nothing about adequately funding the state’s public schools. Relying on property taxes to finance education means the poorest communities in Illinois have less money to spend on their schools and suffer under the highest property tax rates.
It’s a system rigged to benefit wealthy homeowners and wealthy communities, while punishing the working class and small businessman. And it allows elected leaders to escape their constitutional obligation while spending your tax money on other things.
People whine that Illinois has no budget, but this state has shirked its responsibility for decades and few cared because only disadvantaged children suffered. The property tax system is corrupt.