Local Government

Illinois property-tax freeze supporters see House passage as a good sign

It will be up to the next General Assembly that gets sworn in Wednesday to decide whether Illinois property-tax rates should be frozen, but a bill that passed in the Illinois House gives backers hope that a freeze is politically possible.

House Bill 6630, filed by Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, cleared the House on Tuesday on a 76-24 vote, with 16 votes above the minimum needed for passage. But it died in the Senate because time ran out – Tuesday was the final session day for the 99th General Assembly.

House Bill 6630 carried almost identical language to Senate Bill 1919, which was repurposed by state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, to move a property-tax freeze forward. Franks, who co-sponsored Batinick’s bill, decided that it was the proper vehicle because Batinick will return to Springfield, whereas Franks left the General Assembly to become McHenry County Board chairman.

“Now we know for the next General Assembly that he’s going to have enough votes,” Franks said.

The bill seeks to set a tax cap of zero percent on all taxing bodies in the state, including home-rule units, which would require them to ask for voter approval to receive any increase in property taxes. Although McHenry County is under the tax cap, the name is something of a misnomer – the law does not cap taxes, but limits non-home-rule government tax increases to the lesser of the rate or inflation or 5 percent.

A property-tax freeze is among the items sought by Gov. Bruce Rauner as part of his “Turnaround Agenda” for Illinois. Disagreements over the agenda between the Republican governor and the Democratic leaders who control the General Assembly are a major factor behind an 18-month state budget impasse – Rauner has said he will not entertain tax or revenue increases without concessions on some of his proposed reforms.

“We have the highest property taxes in America, and a property-tax freeze where you control whether your property taxes go up or not, will help change the system in Illinois, create jobs and keep families from fleeing the state,” Rauner said in a statement following the House vote.

Several studies place Illinois’ property-tax burden as either the highest of all 50 states, or second highest. One of them places McHenry County’s burden at 29th highest nationwide. Perhaps not coincidentally, Illinois has far more units of local government – just under 7,000 – than any other state.

Local units of government, which have a powerful lobbying presence in Springfield, argue that a property-tax freeze is not realistic because of ever-increasing costs and the additional burden of unfunded mandates imposed by the General Assembly.

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