Property tax limits sound good, but in reality hike tax bills

Kurt Prenzler, Madison County Board Chairman.
Kurt Prenzler, Madison County Board Chairman. dholtmann@bnd.com

Madison County Chairman Kurt Prenzler is thinking right, trying to keep ever-inflating property taxes under control.

But in practice the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law he'd like voters to potentially approve in November has a poor history of controlling government growth.

Two Republican state Senators are pushing a bill that would allow voters in counties that already have PTELL to fix it. The bill calls for voters to be given the power to lower their property taxes by limiting how much government units can tax them.

The problem is that since 1990 when Illinois started allowing counties to vote to impose property tax limits, counties with PTELL have seen their property taxes rise faster than counties without the limits. It seems to defy logic, but local governments may be taking their increases to the limit each year — a maximum of either 5 percent or the inflation rate, whichever is less.

In southern Illinois, the PTELL counties have seen property taxes increase 260 percent since 1990, according to the Illinois Department of Revenue. The counties without limits increased 222 percent.

Property taxes are too high in Illinois, the second-worst in the nation behind New Jersey. Prenzler is right to want to do something to relieve property taxpayers.

It's just not very clear that PTELL is the solution, at least not without giving voters the power to force taxing districts to cut their demands.