By, Charles Selle – Chicago Tribune
In the rarefied air of the 10th floor of the Lake County Building, some lawmakers must have been lacking oxygen the other day. That’s the only conclusion one can reach after County Board members voted to put a meaningless tax question on the November ballot.
The vote was close, 11-7, so some weren’t all that drowsy. With the high taxes Lake Countians pay, you would have thought the County Board could come up with a better referendum question than one giving voters a say on how they feel about a statewide property tax.
How do you think they would feel about a statewide property tax after we pay sky-high local property taxes? Talk about your slam dunk, overwhelming “no” vote.
Yet, County Board members forged ahead last week. They decided to place a non-binding referendum proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot, asking voters if they support amending the Illinois Constitution to ban the implementation of a statewide property tax.
While there is no such tax yet to be proposed at the state level, board members apparently are fearful of Springfield shenanigans that could lead to such a levy in the very, very near future. District 7 Rep. Steve Carlson of Grandwood Park put it succinctly in a News-Sun story last week: “This is a waste of time folks. It’s unfortunate. It’s politics.”
Apparently, some County Board members got their underwear in a knot after a report in the spring from economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago suggesting a 1 percent statewide residential property tax, on top of the property tax bills Illinoisans already pay.
The revenue from this new property tax would go entirely toward paying down the state’s pension debt, pegged at between $130 billion and $250 billion. That’s billions and billions.
Under this pie-in-the-sky plan — I challenge any statewide candidate to endorse this measure — owners of homes worth $250,000 would pay an additional $2,500 in property taxes for the next 30 years. That’s three decades.
With the second payment of Lake County tax bills due early next month, I’m already hearing the usual griping about high taxes. That’s because Lake Countians pay some of the highest taxes in the nation. The chorus is growing, although it remains to be seen if it will manifest itself at the ballot box.
The nonpartisan Tax Foundation estimates that with such a statewide property, Illinoisans’ tax burden would fall behind every other state, ranking 50 out of 50, in terms of the severity of the state’s overall tax burden. Even with that injection of funding, the money still wouldn’t stem our titanic public pension debt.
No wonder more of our neighbors are leaving the cluttered prairies of the Land of Lincoln for pastures of plenty in less-taxing states. We hear little about this continuing exodus from gubernatorial, legislative and local candidates on this year’s ballot.
Want a better, binding referendum question for voters? Try some wording like: “Shall the Illinois General Assembly amend the state Constitution to restructure the state’s public pension system?”
While the County Board debated the wisdom of placing a worthless referendum on the ballot, it was good to see a Democrat admit that taxes are too high. District 9 Rep. Mary Ross Cunningham of Waukegan, who voted against the referendum proposal, noted: “It’s not going to stop taxes from going up.”
There’s only one way to stop the high taxes Lake Countians pay: Reduce spending. Let’s have a referendum on that question, shall we?
Charles Selle is a former News-Sun reporter, political editor and editor.