Editorials

Horsing around with our property taxes

Fifth grade students at Bluffview Elementary in Dupo learn about marine life. Schools receive 61 percent of the property taxes in St. Clair County.
Fifth grade students at Bluffview Elementary in Dupo learn about marine life. Schools receive 61 percent of the property taxes in St. Clair County. dholtmann@bnd.com

“Pretty stable” is how St. Clair County Treasurer Charles Suarez described local property taxes. Pretty stable like Ted Bundy or pretty stable like Caligula? Or is “pretty stable” a place — one that has the horse manure cleaned out.

Property taxes rising 34.21 percent in four years as incomes fell 1 percent, all adjusted for inflation, doesn’t sound very stable. Those taxes rising as property values fell during the recession doesn’t sound stable. Rising 10 percentage points faster than any of your neighboring counties, and more than double one of them, doesn’t sound stable.

What it sounds like is schools, which get the lion’s share of property taxes, have fewer options than other governments. They have been leaning heavily on property taxes because:

• Tax increment financing districts are sucking away significant amounts of property tax revenue and that vacuum is leading schools and other taxing bodies to try to draw in more money.

• The State of Illinois is still well below their constitutional obligation to be the primary source of school funding. It provides 26 percent of school funding.

• School must guess at their budgets and needed property taxes in December and then wait until summer to see how much more the state will renege on its funding obligations. This year is the exception, because with a state budget 197 days overdue they still don’t know what the state will do to play havoc with their finances.

• Illinois tops the nation with 6,963 government units, including 870 school districts. More than 200 of those are single-school districts, which in downstate Illinois cost $600 more per student than do multi-school districts.

Don’t expect stable until we curb tax increment financing districts, make schools and local governments consolidate and force state lawmakers to boost education funding and try, again, to reform how the money is distributed.

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