House GOP says property tax reform efforts appear stalled
Republican Reps. Dan Brady, of Bloomington, and Deanne Mazzochi, of Elmhurst, discuss GOP proposals for property tax relief during a Statehouse news conference on Tuesday. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Peter Hancock)
Two months after task force report, no major initiatives have come forward
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Illinois House Republicans said Tuesday they believe efforts to enact property tax relief have stalled in the General Assembly, and they accused Democrats of using a task force that was formed last year to push for higher income and sales taxes.
“Illinois' convoluted and broken property tax system has been driving the high cost of living that's pushing families and businesses out of our state,” Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, said during a news conference at the Capitol. “Despite the fact that homeowners have been crying desperately for relief, Democrats last year failed to produce any significant action.”
Many in Illinois have complained for years that the state has among the highest property tax rates in the nation. That’s largely because school districts rely on local property taxes for the bulk of their funding. But cities, counties and other local units of government are heavily reliant on property taxes as well.
Last year, as lawmakers were debating Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker’s proposed constitutional amendment to overhaul the state’s income tax system, they also passed a bill establishing a Property Tax Relief Task Force that would meet throughout the fall to study ways to provide property tax relief and deliver a final report by the end of the year.
So far, though, the task force has produced only a draft report that Republicans said was simply a list of topics that had been discussed by various subcommittees of the task force, while none of the recommendations had been considered by the full 80-member group.
Meanwhile, Republicans have said they have introduced numerous bills they believe would provide property tax relief, including bills calling for overhaul of public pension benefits, limiting workers compensation awards, repealing what Republicans call “unfunded mandates” on school districts and expanding property tax exemptions for seniors.
“We want these bills that we've proposed, that were suggested at the property tax committee level, but then we've introduced in bill form, to have their opportunity to be heard in committee and voted on,” Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, said during the news conference. “The taxpayers of Illinois deserve this, and we call on the House Democratic leadership to let that happen.”
Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, who chairs the House Revenue Committee, did not immediately respond to the Republicans’ charges but said through a spokesperson that he would make a statement later in the week after that committee has met.
But other Democrats have said the GOP’s chief proposal, for further pension reform, is off the table. They note that Illinois passed significant pension reform in 2013 when it established the “Tier 2” system for newly-hired employees. That package included reduced cost of living increases, higher retirement ages, and limited the amount of salary that was covered by pensions.
Some Republicans have called for even further reforms such as a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to reduce pension benefits that have already been promised. But in his budget address in February, Pritzker said that idea would not pass federal constitutional muster.
“The fantasy of a constitutional amendment to cut retirees’ benefits is just that – a fantasy,” Pritzker said. “The idea that all of this can be fixed with a single silver bullet ignores the protracted legal battle that will ultimately run headlong into the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”