ROCKFORD – A draft report released by an 88-member state legislative panel formed to bring property tax relief is a reminder of why many previous attempts to find solutions to the vexing issue have failed.
The Property Tax Relief Task Force missed its Dec. 31 deadline for submitting a final report and the contents of the 36-page draft have House Republicans calling for "real reform."
Republican state Reps. Tom Demmer of Dixon and Tony McCombie of Savanna joined task force co-chair Joe Sosnowski of Rockford, and Jeff Keicher of Sycamore, for a news conference Monday at Giovanni's in Rockford, where they addressed what they considered to be the failures of the panel.
The draft is full of tax-relief proposals, but the one gaining the most attention is the idea of expanding the state sales tax base to help fund public schools. The proposal isn't popular with GOP lawmakers – in fact, Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker doesn't even support it.
"We must address the reasons for our sky-high property taxes instead of shifting the burden from property to income or sales taxes," Deputy Republican Leader Demmer said.
Property tax relief has become inextricably linked with Pritzker's graduated-rate income tax proposal that will be on the ballot in November. The administration says that replacing the flat tax on income would generate an estimated $3.6 billion.
"The Democrats tied the task force to the graduated income tax proposal as a way to basically trade property tax relief for an income tax increase, and what we got was a one-sided report that has nothing to really move the needle on tax relief," Demmer said.
Democrats have yet to ask for another meeting since the release of the draft, which doesn't include many of the GOP's proposals, Sosnowski said. He said the process has failed to produce any meaningful relief, calling the panel "large, unruly and unworkable."
"We presented about 26 ideas and all of them were dismissed," Sosnowski said. "We feel that Republicans weren't involved in the drafting of this document – it was done by a lot of ad hoc subcommittees."
Some of the key components the GOP wanted to see addressed were: conflicts of interest in the property tax appeals system; pension reform; additional tax relief for senior citizens; savings through government consolidation and resource sharing; and the impact of unfunded mandates on local government, especially schools.
McCombie also was disappointed in the lack of focus on broad-based reform she sees as critical to finding real solutions to tax relief.
"If we're going to lower taxes, we must stop corruption and the unfunded mandates that hamstring school budgets and local government, and we need real pension reform. We can't tax our way out of a financial mess – tax increases don't promote growth."
The General Assembly has set up many similar panels over the last half-century to change the state's property tax system. None have met with success, and Keicher fears this task force will be another squandered opportunity.
"We haven't been allowed to vet the issues; we've been shut of of the discussions," Keicher said. "I hope we will be granted fair hearings that allow full discourse before the voters."
The Republicans want to see more than a list of suggested changes. They want the ideas prioritized, with analysis and details for implementation.
"This doesn't address the root problems and it doesn't including anything to reduce government costs," Sosnowski said.
The task force has not yet put out the call to reconvene, so it's likely the report will be picked up when the House is back in session on Jan. 28.