Karen Kidd May 27, 2016, 8:38am


SPRINGFIELD – A bill to freeze property taxes likely won't pass in the waning days of this legislative session, but a reform advocate believes that eventually some measure will pass.  

"I think one can get poor by betting on anything in Springfield, especially when it is the end of session," Americans For Prosperity Illinois State Director David From said in an email interview with the Record. "But, I think there is some recognition by both parties that there is overwhelming public demand for our elected leaders to address the problem of ever-increasing property taxes. If HB 696 is not the vehicle by which they do that, I think there is still the possibility that it could be part of a larger end-of-session deal."

HB 696 would freeze property taxes in non-home-rule units of Illinois state government by eliminating a provision of the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law that allows taxing bodies to implement annual tax increases. Currently, the law allows for an extension limitation annual escalator of 5 percent of the Consumer Price Index. HB 696 would reset that percentage to zero.

The bill has been in the Senate Executive Subcommittee on Special Issues since May 4 and now faces a deadline of Tuesday - the last day of regular session.

The bill's predecessor, HB 695, which would have implemented a statewide property tax freeze in all taxing bodies, was defeated last month. HB 696 excludes all home-rule communities, including Chicago, Naperville and Peoria, from the proposed property tax freeze.

"Legislation that does not exclude home rule communities would be ideal, but also demands a super-majority for passage," From said. "The municipal portion of most taxpayers’ property tax bill is quite small, usually 5 to 7 percent. So HB 696 still accomplishes the main goal of stopping the continued increase in property taxes."

HB 696 also would cover property taxes levied by all local taxing bodies with the exception of the tax levied by the home rule unit of government.

"Bottom line, this bill would still have the effect of freezing the vast majority of property taxes levied by local government entities, even for residents of home-rule communities," he said. "We would also like to see collective bargaining and prevailing wage reform included as part of property tax freeze legislation so that local governments can have some tools to better manage costs. However, we think the freeze is the most important priority."

Americans for Prosperity's Illinois branch this past spring intensified its efforts to gain support for a property tax freeze. In April, it launched an online ad, criticizing lawmakers hesitant to pass a property tax freeze. The branch also released results of a survey that said 80 percent or more residents in many state legislative districts favored a property tax freeze. The same survey also said voters polled were more likely to vote against a legislator who failed to support a property tax freeze.

Last week, the group issued a press release calling on state legislators "to get serious about helping middle class Illinoisans by passing a property tax freeze and limiting government spending."

"We, AFP, don’t see this as a partisan bill primarily because it passed the House with 37 Democrat and 34 Republican votes and achieved a super-majority," From said.

HB 696's sponsors in the Senate are Senator and President of the Senate John J. Cullerton (D - 6th District), Sen. Laura M. Murphy (D - 28th District), Sen. Melinda Bush (D - 31st District) and Sen. Julie A. Morrison (D - 29th District).

The bill also seems to have strong support among Republican state senators. However, that bipartisan support for the bill may be unraveling, From said.

"As we understand it currently, Senate President Cullerton is stopping the bill from being called in the Senate," From said. "But there is plenty of support for the legislation on both sides of the aisle. The Democrat leadership in the Senate has the opportunity to move this forward, but so far have not."

It's time lawmakers took up that challenge, From said.

"There has been a lot of talk from the Democrat leadership citing the middle class and what is best for them," he said. "I truly believe this is one of the most impactful proposals when it comes to middle class Illinoisans that the legislature can act on right now. Property taxes are consuming more income for families, while driving away businesses and jobs. Our state has the second-highest property tax burden in the nation and our politicians need to do something to change that fact. If our leaders really want to help the middle class, rather than just talk about it, they should pass a property tax freeze."

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