High property taxes pay public pensions, with little public service

Your second installment of property taxes in St. Clair County is due Aug. 21, so here’s a little perspective on where those taxes go and why that retired public employee is smiling.

During the past 20 years, Illinois went from the middle of the pack to the highest property taxes in the nation. Better news: Even in our state of taxing superlatives, St. Clair County is where property taxes grew the fastest as compared to house values.

Property taxes in St. Clair County grew 214 percent faster than home values, according to a new study by the Illinois Policy Institute. The study covers 1996 to 2016.

The taxes here nearly doubled from more than $700 for every man, woman and child to more than $1,400 per person, and that is adjusted for inflation.

The problem is that all those new taxes did not go to getting teachers into classrooms, police on the streets and firefighters onto trucks. Those items would have returned a public service for the public investment.

Rather, more than half of the property taxes in Illinois went to paying for public pensions — the retired police, teachers, firefighters and other former public employees. Those retirees get 3 percent a year, compounded, after years of politicians and school boards handing their unions fat contracts and salary bumps before retirement, a practice that continues despite penalties.

Remember Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert crying about the need to raise property taxes $58 because of the police and firefighter pensions? Remember the state threatening to seize all of East St. Louis’ money for keeping police on the streets because the pensions were so woefully underfunded? Well, these are the pigeons coming home to roost, and they’re making a mess here and across the state.

The biggest culprit is the same government unit that eats most of your property tax bill: schools. For every new $1 public bodies take from homeowners, 52 cents go to public pensions and 31 of those cents go to prop up teacher pensions. Even then, their pension has only 40 percent of what it needs.

In addition to consuming the bulk of property taxes, teacher pensions are also eating most of the $5.4 billion in new dollars the state put towards education during the 20 years. Two-thirds of that money went to pensions.

Illinois is on an unsustainable path. It cannot continue mortgaging its future by jacking up property taxes while depressing home values through those high taxes that fail to yield public services.

Well, to be honest, it can. The cowardly, easy path is to keep letting pensions kill this state and to keep sending you the bill.