(Illinois News Network
) — I’ve been called many things, but handy isn’t one of them.
When something around the house breaks, I usually take a look at the problem, dig through my toolbox, look some more, and then call someone to fix it.
Don’t get me wrong. I can change a lightbulb and even have replaced the battery in our smoke detector. But if something more complicated stops working – say, the washing machine – I don’t have a chance on my own.
Let’s say you’re like me.
Your washing machine breaks, you call the repair shop and they send someone over.
The technician takes a look at the problem and opens his toolbox. Instead of pulling out a wrench and a screwdriver, he grabs a microphone and a magic wand. And rather than working on your washing machine, he breaks into a song and a dance, waves the magic wand above his head and yells “hocus-pocus.”
He tells you he’s done his part, someone else will be over to finish the job, packs up his stuff, and burns rubber getting out of your driveway.
But no one else shows up to fix the washing machine.
You’re left with a key household appliance that’s still broken and a headache from trying to figure out what just happened.
Would you accept that from your repairman? Of course not.
And while you could argue that scenario is far-fetched, I’d say it’s similar to what the Illinois General Assembly is doing with our broken property tax system, which will require more than a visit from the washing machine technician.
It’s no secret that Illinoisans pay among the highest property taxes in the country. One study
has us paying the second-highest property taxes in the U.S. behind only New Jersey.
Property taxes are so high that many Illinoisans are literally being taxed out of their homes
. Illinois leads the nation in the number of residents fleeing for other states, and overly burdensome property taxes often is the top reason cited for their flight.
State lawmakers acknowledge that high property taxes are a legitimate problem here, even as they voted this summer to increase our income taxes
by $5 billion.
Gov. Bruce Rauner made property tax relief a major pillar of his Turnaround Agenda, which helped him win election in 2014.
However, instead of working to repair the cause of the problem, elected legislators put on a song and a dance and a magic show – gestures to create an illusion that they had accomplished something meaningful.
Take last week, when legislation came to a vote on the House floor that was marketed as property tax relief, though anyone paying attention to the antics in Springfield must have known it was only for show.
First, let’s talk about the merits of the bill. That won’t take much time as there were none.
Democrat State Rep. Michelle Mussman’s measure sought to implement a two-year freeze on property taxes in Cook and the collar counties, while downstate voters could choose the same two-year freeze if they approved it by referendum.
Here’s where the hocus-pocus part comes in: There were so many exemptions and exceptions added to the proposed freeze that it was worthless, and created no relief for the taxpayers.
School districts on the state’s financial watch list – such as Chicago Public Schools, the state’s largest school district by far – would be exempt from the freeze. And cities, villages, school districts and other local taxing bodies could still increase their tax levies to pay for pension and other debt.
The proposed legislation was a parlor trick. Most taxing bodies still would have been able to increase property taxes.
Outside of the merits of the bill itself, there was the politics of it … as in, the song and the dance and the show to put on for taxpayers – and voters. 2018 is an election year after all.
Mussman called her bill for a vote in the House knowing full well it wasn’t going anywhere in the Senate.
Republican lawmakers immediately saw it for the theater that it was.
“It’s all being done apparently for re-election tricks, because there’s no chance this will actually be acted upon in the Illinois Senate,” Rep. Peter Breen (R-Lombard) said. “I’ll be supporting it but, boy, I’ll be skeptical and cynical just as I started the day.”
Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) was more blunt.
“It is a political pandering piece of garbage,” she said.
Regardless, a supermajority of House members voted to approve the sham freeze, then went home for, well, the rest of the year.
The Senate, playing the role of the second repairman in this charade, didn’t show up to vote on it.
The measure died, as it was supposed to, a quick death. But representatives, whose seats are up for re-election next year, can go home and tell their constituents they tried, pointing the finger at someone else for its failure.
In a state where just about everything seems broken, you would think its leaders would want to spend meaningful time working toward meaningful fixes.
But in Springfield, everything is song and dance and smoke and mirrors.
And we can’t accept that.
Written by Dan McCaleb. McCaleb is a veteran editor and has worked in journalism for more than 25 years. Most recently, McCaleb served as editorial director of Shaw Media and the top editor of the award-winning Northwest Herald in suburban McHenry County.
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