Continuing the November theme of thankfulness, it is easy on this Veterans’ Day weekend to recognize the many sacrifices and contributions of our nation’s service men and women. We have veterans’ care issues that we continue to work on that affect all those who have served from the world wars to our present-day ongoing conflicts. One could opine at length about the services that they deserve – that they have earned – and how we must strive to allocate resources to meet those needs.
In fact, it would be too easy to write about that because it’s so obvious.
There are, however, some related issues around resource distribution that have been floating through the political winds of late that came to a head this week, and the decision reached on that issue is worthy of my thanks as well.
That issue is property taxes: specifically, the perpetually-proposed property tax freeze in Illinois. I am thankful that it did not pass, at least in the currently offered version.
Property taxes are the way local governments pay the majority (in some cases, nearly all) of their operating expenses. They are how we collectively fund village and city governments – and their police and fire departments; how we staff libraries and their programs; how our township leaders maintain infrastructure; and probably most notably, how schools educate our and our neighbors’ children. These are tasks that private operators could perform (and in some cases, already do), but the scope of these tasks and our shared commitment to their success means that operating them for the common good makes more sense in several ways.
Now, those of us in government must be honest and say – just as private industry must admit – that there are disagreements about priorities in spending and in amounts spent; these are admittedly important conversations, ones that drive much of our political discussion. Given these, there are certainly legitimate reasons for controlling tax levies and budget-making decision – but these controls are already in place. For over 25 years in our area, the PTELL (Property Tax Extension Limitation Law) has regulated the amount of money public bodies can raise through taxation each year, essentially capping any increase at the lower of CPI (Consumer Price Index) or 5%. Additionally, the voters always have the ultimate control at the ballot box, electing representatives who express a clear vision of financial productivity and responsibility – and rejecting those who fall short. Property Tax “freezes” override these controls, and in the process, remove the local control that is already in place.
Thankfully, this measure – one of Governor Rauner’s signature demands – is dead in the Illinois legislature for this year. Now, all sides recognize that the people of Illinois deserve a fair price for services provided, and discussions to achieve that goal will be ongoing. But this idea of “reducing taxes” by limiting local taxing bodies’ ability to collect necessary funds is a shell game, where the burdens of running the state will simply be shifted elsewhere. Comprehensive tax reform across the state, aimed at providing necessary services while encouraging growth, is possible, and hopefully achievable in the not-too-distant future. That is something for which we will all be thankful.