By Andrew Nelms -
In a state with the unenviable distinction of having the third-highest unemployment and the second-highest property taxes in the nation, it’s discouraging to see local governments in more than half the counties across the state asking voters to approve over a hundred tax increases in next month’s primary election. Illinoisans do not suffer from a lack of taxation. Illinoisans suffer from a lack of opportunity. And as the state with the second-highest “outbound migration,” people are clearly leaving in droves. Yet, despite this, over fifty property tax increases to pay for everything from new swimming pools to cemetery maintenance, nearly $300 million dollars in municipal bonds and dozens of sales tax increases will be put before what will surely be a small group of voters on March 18th.
Since the program began in 2012, the AFP-IL Local Anti-Tax Initiative has actively opposed tax hike referenda, and will continue their efforts in the March primary. In the 2013 consolidated election, even more referenda affecting taxes (137) were placed on Illinois ballots, 58% of which were ultimately defeated. At that time, AFP-IL targeted 35 referenda in counties and municipalities across Illinois. Partnering with local activists and groups to execute grassroots efforts, in addition to mail and paid phone campaigns to advocate for a “No” vote on tax and debt increases, 19 communities rejected higher taxes and one community actually voted to reduce three tax rates for their taxpayers.
Voters who cast a ballot next month would normally declare a party affiliation, which becomes part of their publicly-available voting history. Granted, voters who do not wish to affiliate themselves with a political party may request a non-partisan ballot only listing any applicable propositions (i.e. referenda). But it seems most voters do not avail themselves of this option. A mere 0.57% of the ballots cast on February 2, 2010 were non-partisan. Overall turnout in that election was a meager 23% statewide.
“For local governments to think that Illinois families have the desire or financial wherewithal to bear any additional tax burden is absolutely unbelievable,” stated AFP-IL Director of Policy & Communications Andrew Nelms. “In fact,” continued Nelms, “government should be more sympathetic to folks who are burdened with record-high property taxes and declining household income.”
Incredibly, some voters and areas will face multiple referenda. For instance, voters in portions of Rock Island County will be asked to vote on two sales tax increases and a $14.97 million municipal bond question. In McHenry County, an aggregate $70.75 million in municipal bonds will appear on ballots across the county. With this in mind, the standard justification for any referendum, “it’s just a (insert beverage) a (insert timeframe)!,” rings hollow. Mindful that there are multiple contributors to a property tax bill, multiple layers of municipal sales taxes and the historic, 67% temporary hike in the state income tax passed some three years ago, it seems that this election is proof-positive that Illinois’ eye-popping 6,968 local governments must do more to reduce spending rather than come back to the taxpayer, who has less, for more.
Additionally, other referenda include:
- An advisory referendum to raise the minimum wage in Chicago to $15 in some cases.
- An advisory referendum to raise Chicago taxi rates.
- Four communities are seeking to become Home Rule, which comes with additional taxing authority (City of Gilman, Iroquois Co.; City of Sparta, Randolph Co.; Village of Merrionette Park, Cook Co.; Village of Rochester, Sangamon Co.).
- Dissolve units of government (Consolidated Public Water District, Perry Co.; Evanston Township, Cook Co.).
- Create units of government (Public Building Commission, Fulton Co.; Lincoln Trail Park District, Vermillion Co.).
- Implement local term limits (Plainfield Township Park District (advisory), Kendall & Will Co.; Village of Oak Lawn (binding), Cook Co.).
- Abolish local term limits (Village of Lyons, Cook Co.).
- An advisory referendum to require a permit to use a park district dog park (Plainfield Township Park District, Kendall & Will Co.). Presumably, this potential permit will only be obtainable with a fee.
- An advisory referendum to encourage the General Assembly & the Cook County Board to reduce property taxes (Village of Lyons, Cook Co.).
- An advisory referendum to ban fracking (Johnson Co.). Never mind that legislation allowing it already passed last year and the permitting process is underway.