Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed legislation creating the Property Tax Relief Task Force, but Illinoisans shouldn't expect to see lower property tax bills anytime soon.
The bipartisan task force will review the entirety of the state's property tax system, study best practices in other states and make short-term and long-term recommendations by the end of the year. Just what those recommendations will be and how quickly they can be implemented remains to be seen.
While the idea of a task force may seem like a token effort by itself, this still presents an opportunity for change. Among those leaving Illinois for other states, overly burdensome taxes – including property taxes – often is cited among the top reasons.
Setting skepticism aside, the Property Tax Relief Task Force does have a chance to provide a path to lower property taxes. That's what residents want and have been asking for.
The task force should start by looking at consolidation at all levels of government. Illinois had about 6,900 units of government statewide in 2017, far more than any other state. Texas was the only other state that was even close, with about 5,300, according to Governing, which used U.S. Census Bureau numbers. Florida had about 1,700 units of government while Hawaii had 21.
Florida, by the way, is the third-largest state in the nation with 21.3 million residents, according to 2018 Census estimates. Illinois is barely half that size, with 12.7 million.
Illinois has among the highest property taxes in the United States. It's a safe bet that the sheer number of taxing bodies plays some role. Yes, New Jersey has high property taxes with far fewer units of government (about 1,300), but the case for consolidation has been clearly demonstrated in DuPage County.
Located in the western Chicago suburbs, DuPage County has shed 7 units of government since 2012. The latest to be dissolved was the Highland Hills Sanitary District. That happened last month. Before that, DuPage County got rid of the Timberlake Estates Sanitary District, Fairview Fire Protection District, DuPage Fair and Exposition Authority, Century Hill Street Lighting District, DuPage Election Commission and North Westmont Fire Protection District.
DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said the consolidation has saved taxpayers an estimated $100 million.
Imagine if others followed suit? What would property tax bills look like if Illinois had only as many taxing units as Texas? Or as few as Florida?
It's time to get serious about lowering property taxes in Illinois. If the task force takes its job seriously, consolidation will be among the recommendations. If it doesn't, higher property taxes await. That will mean more people leaving the state, sticking those who remain with even bigger property tax bills.