Show property tax relief or show Illinoisans the door, tax expert argues
Chicago's collar counties pay some of the highest property tax rates in the country, proving again the need for a permanent property tax freeze in Illinois, Joe Kaiser of the Illinois Policy Institute argued recently.
"Lawmakers should know their constituents are looking for relief, and barring that, the exits,” Kaiser wrote. “This is true across the state, but particularly in the collar counties, where the overwhelming property tax rates are pushing families out of their homes and out of the state.”
Using data from the Tax Foundation, Kaiser compared the tax rates in the collar counties to those of counties throughout Illinois and in the country as a whole. Based on the effective property taxes of median households, he said that four of Illinois’ counties are among the 30 counties paying the highest tax rates in the country, and three of those — Lake, DuPage and McHenry counties — are in the Chicago area.
Lake County’s median tax bill of $6,881 makes it the most expensive county in the state in terms of property taxes and the 21st most expensive in the country. DuPage County is second, with a median bill of $6,274, while McHenry County has a median bill of $5,941, the fourth highest in the state.
Rounding out the collar counties, Kane and Will counties narrowly missed the national top 30, at 33rd and 34th, respectively, with median bills of $5,735 and $5,567. That makes them the fifth- and sixth-most expensive counties in the state. Cook County has a median bill of $4,586, making it the eighth-most expensive county in Illinois and 67th most expensive in the country.
“With property tax rates this high and residents fleeing the state, lawmakers representing these areas should seek to ease their constituents’ tax burden,” Kaiser wrote. “But that hasn’t been the case.”
While Kaiser strongly supports a property tax freeze, he was disappointed by 2016’s House Bill 696, the General Assembly’s latest attempt at putting one in place. The bill, which passed the House easily but stalled in the Senate, was a compromise that would have seen the freeze apply only to non-home rule tax districts, meaning that less than half of the state’s residents would have seen their property tax rates stabilized.
According to Kaiser, 7.8 million Illinoisans — amounting to 60 percent — live in home rule communities. He points out that three of HB696’s sponsors, two Democrats and one Republican, represented districts in the collar counties that need property tax relief but as home-rule communities would not have received it.
“A property tax freeze that excludes more than half the state’s population is not real reform,” Kaiser wrote. “But a true, permanent property tax freeze for the entire state would be a positive step, especially for residents in the overtaxed collar counties. Unfortunately, so far in 2017, state senators have tinkered with only a watered-down, two-year property tax freeze, attached to multibillion-dollar tax hikes.”
The high tax rates come with a cost in the form of out-migration, which Kaiser believes will increase if the General Assembly does not step in. Between July 2015 and July 2016, Cook County lost more residents than any other county in the country, at 66,244, according to a report from the Illinois Policy Institute.
The collar counties followed a similar trend, with DuPage County, as the most extreme example, losing 9,171 residents and experiencing a population decline of 2,400 people. Lake County lost 5,179 residents, Kane County lost 1,824, McHenry County lost 1,589 and Will County lost 1,253.
Kaiser urged the state’s lawmakers to pass a property tax freeze to curb the loss of residents, as shrinking populations will only necessitate higher tax rates to generate the same revenue, leading to a downward spiral.