Op Ed: Springfield Overcharges on Property Taxes and Under Delivers on Ethics

When I talk with constituents, the issues I hear about most are property taxes and corruption. People are tired of their tax bills increasing every year while their home values decrease or remain stagnant. They’re also tired of politicians who cry “foul” when stories of corruption hit the news, but fail to use their super-majority votes to actually deliver anything even remotely resembling substantive change.

During my first year in Springfield, I learned quickly that when most lawmakers want to look like they are doing something while not actually committing to change, they form a task force. Our state’s history is littered with one failed task force after another. A task force is formed, legislators write press releases and meetings take place. Reports are filed and quickly forgotten. Taxes continue to rise and elected officials who abuse their power continue to self-deal with no improved accountability measures in place to stop them.

Rod Blagojevich’s removal from office in 2009 should have prompted comprehensive ethics reform, but instead, Democrats maintained the status quo of self-dealing and turned a blind eye to lawmakers who leverage political influence in exchange for political gain. Now, almost weekly we learn of another raid, arrest, or indictment.  How many indictments will it take for Democrats to finally get serious about ethics reform? Will the recently-convened task force on ethics and lobbying be another failure? I just hope it has better results than the recent property tax relief task force.

I served on the property tax relief task force. It was a farce. With a staggering 88 members and weighted membership by Democrats, they ran the meetings and decided which suggestions would be included in the final report and which ones would not.  Republicans tried to dive into the structural problems that are the primary drivers of high property taxes.  One of our top recommendations was relief from the hundreds of unfunded mandates Springfield has heaped onto schools. When I talk to school professionals, they say they do not want mandates that provide no educational value for students.  They want local control to determine what is best for the students and families they serve. A one-size-fits all set of mandates does not work across a state as diverse as ours.

The property tax task force also failed to address the undeniable connection between property taxes and public employee pensions. When 25 cents of every tax dollar is channeled toward pensions, we simply cannot solve the property tax problem without addressing pensions. We came to a bipartisan solution last year on police and firefighter pensions and there is no reason we can’t do the same for other pensions systems that are driving up costs and taxes.

Springfield is in need of bold solutions by elected officials that are determined to address Illinois’ most pressing problems. I am committed to enacting positive change and invite my peers from both sides of the aisle to join me.