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More state aid to schools is solution to property tax hikes

Friday, July 27, 2007
Daily Southtown

The issue: Different versions of a property tax cap, dubbed the "7 percent solution," are being debated in Springfield.
We say: The real solution is to shift the burden for education funding away from property owners and toward the state's income tax.
Lawmakers in Springfield continue to be at odds over renewal of the so-called "7 percent solution," a measure that would effectively limit property tax assessment increases to 7 percent a year.
At last count, Senate President Emil Jones and Gov. Rod Blagojevich, along with Cook County Assessor James Houlihan, wanted to renew the measure with a provision for a $60,000 homestead exemption; House Speaker Michael Madigan, now with the open support of Mayor Richard Daley, wants a $20,000 exemption. The exemptions would allow homeowners to deduct the amount of exemption from the value of their home, so the Jones version offers more tax relief than the Madigan plan. But Madigan says he favors the lower exemption because "rich people don't need a tax break."
From the perspective of the Southland, either version would help homeowners only in the short term, and neither is a real solution in the long run. The problem is that either version would give the tax break only to homeowners, not to business owners. As a result, taxes on businesses would rise by an amount that would offset the homeowners' savings, and that would spell trouble for the south suburbs, where property taxes already are excessive and many businesses have fled to places like Will County or Indiana. The 7 percent solution would continue that trend, likely driving more businesses our of the area, leaving the tax burden for homeowners to carry. The annual increase would be limited to 7 percent, but the measure would assure increases of 7 percent every year.
So once again, we remind lawmakers and the governor that the region's high property taxes are their fault. That is, local property taxes go primarily to schools, and school taxes continue to increase every year because the state refuses to pay its fair share for education. The state constitution mandates that the state should be the primary funding source for public schools. But the Legislature, with the tacit support of a succession of governors, has declined to be the primary funding source. Schools only have one alternative when the state ducks its duty, and that is to raise property taxes.
Of course, even if the state picks up a greater share of the costs, it is we taxpayers who ultimately pay the bill. But the state income tax, the prime source for state education money, is simply a fairer way to collect the revenue needed by the schools. That's because the income tax is based on ability to pay; it's a percentage of each year's income.
The property tax, on the other hand, is a percentage of the "paper value" of your home, which means it's subject to annual market trends, which are almost always upward, either a little or lot. And if you don't plan to sell your home, that market value increase puts no money in your pocket, though it does increase your tax liability.
This is why an increase in the state income tax would be a fairer way to raise money to pay for schools. Individuals who earn more in a year would pay more. Property taxpayers, on the other hand, pay more every year, even if their earnings are fixed or declining.
And that's why we support a measure like House Bill 750, this year's version of an income tax increase to pay for more state education funding, coupled with local property tax reductions. The bill contains other provisions, including a sales tax increase to help the state meet its pension liabilities and balance its structural deficit. It is a better alternative than annual property tax increases.
In addition, if the state share of school funding increased, the "fairness gap" would be less between schools in wealthy communities and those in the rest of the state.
But once again, the politicians are focused on the temporary Band-Aid solution of a cap on property tax increases -- which is no solution at all. The real solution is to reduce the reliance on property taxes, not to build in a 7 percent increase each year for everyone, regardless of whether they can afford it.

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