After months of political gamesmanship that made a mockery of the serious issue of property tax relief, on Friday lawmakers finally approved a real bill that seeks to freeze property taxes for most Illinoisans.
Bill co-sponsor Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) said HB 696 seeks to immediately freeze property taxes for all non-home-rule units of government, including schools, by eliminating taxing bodies’ ability to take advantage of a law that allows for annual tax increases. “The Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) has become a tool that governments use to tap more money each year regardless of need,” said Sandack. “Over time, this has led to citizens being completely overtaxed to the point where some are losing their homes.”
Beginning in levy year 2015, HB 696 would reset the PTELL extension limitation annual escalator from today’s level of 5% or the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to 0%. For taxpayers, this means that units of government may not take additional tax dollars from residents without first passing a referendum. “Taxpayers are at their limit, and they are desperate for the kind of tax relief that this bill will provide,” Sandack said.
A similar bill, HB 695, which would have provided for a statewide property tax freeze for all taxing bodies, was defeated earlier in the week. While Sandack said he would have preferred that HB 695 be adopted, the measure simply did not have the required number of votes needed for passage. “HB 695 would have preempted home-rule status, so a supermajority vote, or 71 votes, was needed for passage,” said Sandack. “Obviously the best outcome would be for every Illinoisan to be taxed under the same PTELL guidelines, but given the political realities of Illinois and especially Chicago, we had to go with a version that excluded home-rule communities. With home-rule units excluded, the bill only required a simple majority of votes for passage. We can still consider the passage of HB 696 as a big win for taxpayers in most Illinois communities.”
Because bills must receive three formal readings before a vote can occur, Sandack said HBs 695 and 696 were the only two legitimate property tax freeze bills brought to the floor of the House this year for a proper vote. A Democrat initiative in the form of an amendment to a bill on 2nd Reading was brought for an insincere vote at least 15 times throughout the year. The bill sponsor never moved his bill to 3rd Reading for an official vote. “The Democrats were poking fun at a very serious matter, and held their show votes to gather fodder for campaign season,” Sandack said. “It was all part of the drama that unfolded in Springfield at a time when we should have been focusing on a budget and on bills that help the people we are elected to serve.”
HB 696 is now pending in the Senate, where Senate President John Cullerton has signed on as the Chief Sponsor. “I hope the President of the Senate recognizes how important property tax relief is and agrees to allow the bill to be fully vetted and considered and considered before the entire Senate,” said Sandack.