Voters Soundly Defeat Local Property Tax Hikes

Published January 1, 2005

Evidence of antipathy toward higher property taxes in Illinois showed up in the November 2 general election when voters across the state rejected 38 of 49 public school district tax-hike referenda.

“Illinois voters rejected two of every three school funding referendums this election, sending administrators back to carve deeper into cash-strapped budgets and renewing pleas for more money from Springfield,” wrote Associated Press (AP) reporter Jan Dennis on November 5.

State’s Rates Relatively High

About half the property taxes collected in Illinois are used to fund public education. Illinois has one of the nation’s highest property tax burdens, ranking in the top 10 among all states, according to the Washington, DC-based Tax Foundation.

Illinois localities collected $14.45 billion in property taxes in fiscal year 2000, the latest year for which the Census Bureau has published state-by-state data, according to the Tax Foundation. That amounts to $1,166 per capita, or $37 for every $1,000 of personal income.

“Illinois’ local property taxes are 8th highest in the nation by the per-capita measure and 9th highest as a percentage of income,” says Tax Foundation President Scott Hodge.

Taxpayers Worried About Economy

“The economy [in Illinois] is still relatively shaky, and I think a lot of people are concerned about rising taxes when their own salaries aren’t going up or they’re unemployed,” Robert Bradley, a political science professor at Illinois State University, told AP’s Dennis.

According to Dennis’s report, Fieldcrest, Illinois School Superintendent Michael Stagliano believes “fed-up taxpayers helped sink his district’s bid for a 55-cent education tax increase, its second failed referendum in as many years.”

“What we hear from the man on the street is ‘We’re tired of the taxes, we can’t support any more,'” said Stagliano, whose 1,300-student district stretches through four counties in central Illinois.

Jim Tobin, president of National Taxpayers United of Illinois, told Dennis he “thinks voters are sending a signal that schools should cut costs instead of asking for more money.” He added, “They [pro-taxers] say it’s for the kids when it’s really for the greedy overpaid bureaucrats who provide a mediocre education.”

In a letter published by the Chicago Sun-Times on November 23, Tobin wrote, “Chicago residents deserve tax cuts, not tax increases that fund more wasteful and corrupt government practices.”

John W. Skorburg ([email protected]) is a visiting lecturer at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and associate editor of Budget & Tax News.