Trampled by tax districts

December 2, 2013 

If you've heard the commercial about being wary of investing in a stock market named after an animal that tramples people, then you should consider yourself warned when people tell you that something with "tax" in its name is not a tax.

That would be the case with tax increment financing.

Cities in St. Clair and Madison counties have used the districts to set aside $581.7 million in property taxes since 2005 with the intent of spending that money to spur new economic development. Nearly half went to Sauget, East St. Louis and Belleville, which has 19 districts including one that covers most of the city.

In our view the most egregious sin is that tax increment financing creates taxation without representation.

Districts linger on average for 23 years, although Belleville's got one with a 35-year lifespan. A district created today will be around when today's babies start their careers as young adults.

School district residents outside the municipalities wind up subsidizing the costs of the schools for those in the municipalities, whose tax share is trapped by the tax increment financing district. And all taxpayers wind up paying higher tax rates for the basic costs of government when funds are siphoned off by and segregated in the tax districts.

In reality, the tax districts are a way for politicians to get incrementally higher taxes without going to voters to ask for higher tax rates. This annual creep of higher taxes is also taxation without representation.

Politicians say they don't know where the money will come from without tax increment financing. Well, it will have to come from taxes.

But those taxes should come from a system that doesn't last a quarter century. They should come from a system that is open to greater public input, public participation, public scrutiny and public approval.

Time to rewrite the tax increment financing laws in Illinois. Time to demand our politicians wean themselves from this addiction. Time to give voters a voice on their taxation.

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