July 23, 2024

Broken promises equal pain for Illinois homeowners

Gov. J.B. Pritzker in his 2020 State of the State address declared, “Property taxes in Illinois are simply too high. That’s why it’s time to put the best ideas to work from both sides of the aisle.” Pritzker’s words ring hollow. Four years later, Illinois has one of the highest property tax rates in America, and some Cook County homeowners just received the highest property tax bills in more than 30 years.  

In August 2019, Pritzker announced the formation of a bipartisan, bicameral legislative task force to help “reduce the burden of property taxes felt by homeowners.” Another broken promise. The task force was a joke and failed to issue a report. Where is the common sense? Our Illinois legislators voted themselves consecutive pay raises totaling a 22% bump in their salaries since January 2023 — but have consistently failed to fix the unfair property tax system.

In Park Forest, the median bill is up by $2,567 to $7,152, the Tribune reported. In Dixmoor, the bill is up from from $1,073 in 2023 to $1,950 in 2024. A Cook County treasurer’s report found that property taxes rose about $706 million, with homeowners paying an extra $611 million. Commercial properties owe an extra $102.9 million. The increases in the south suburbs disproportionately affect lower-income Black residents.

Staggering tax hikes coupled with inflationary food, gas and energy costs will likely cause rents to go up, homeowners to lose their homes and businesses to close. In 2022, more than 55,000 properties were added to Cook County’s annual tax sale. Nearly half of the homes were owned by people who owed less than $1,000, according to Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas. Pritzker and the General Assembly have committed hundreds of millions in taxpayer funding to care for migrants’ food and housing. Imagine if Pritzker would have invested those resources to help stabilize property taxes in the south suburbs and other high-taxed communities.

Levies to support funding for schools are never adjusted down — they only go up. Too much government duplication, bloated payrolls and overlapping school districts drive up costs. Common sense tells us that raising taxes on older citizens and working-class families causes financial pain for residents.

Perhaps there is a quiet revolution taking place as citizens and businesses leave Illinois. A recent Wall Street Journal Editorial Board analysis of Internal Revenue Service data on the migration of taxpayers and adjusted gross income between states found that Illinois lost $9.8 billion in 2022. That is income leaving Illinois and going to other states. Where is the common sense? With fewer people to tax because of outmigration, a disproportionate burden of taxation falls on a smaller number of taxpayers. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Illinois lost more than 263,000 residents from 2020 to 2023. Cook County lost 188,000 people, and Chicago lost 81,900 during the same period.   

Ken Griffin, CEO of Citadel and a former Illinoisan, took his company to Florida. Griffin’s departure will hurt state tax collections. Boeing, Caterpillar and other companies have left Illinois for business-friendly states. It is common sense to know that migrants cannot make up for the population losses in Illinois. Our citizens deserve leaders who will implement policies that attract companies and the best citizens to our state.

The following are some suggestions to fix the broken property tax system:

  1. Pritzker, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Senate President Don Harmon should create a business-friendly environment in Illinois.  This means lower crime, lower cost of living, less taxes and less burdensome regulations. Prioritize student literacy — an educated workforce is attractive to companies.
  2. Pritzker and Democrats in the General Assembly should provide more funding for public schools from the state to reduce burden on local governments.  The state constitution mandates that the “primary responsibility for financing the system of public education” belongs to the state.
  3. Pritzker and Democrats should consolidate duplicative units of government and remove state incentives that cause local governments to raise levies.
  4. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle should continue to consolidate county offices that provide overlapping services. The recorder of deeds office was successfully consolidated with the clerk’s office.
  5. Illinois voters should vote for candidates who prioritize their basic needs.

The property tax system is broken — it has been for some time. Pritzker had the right words in 2020, but his actions did not align. It takes bold and committed leadership to fix a broken system. The Democrats have supermajorities in Springfield.  The time is right to provide relief for homeowners — especially Black homeowners who disproportionately lose their homes. No more empty promises or excuses.

I write this commentary to make those comfortable with protecting an inequitable property tax system uncomfortable. 

Willie Wilson is a business owner, philanthropist and former mayoral candidate.

Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email letters@chicagotribune.com.

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