Illinois residents pay some of the most expensive local tax rates in the United States, including property taxes, the primary source of local government revenue. The reason why property taxes are so high is the multitude of governmental agencies (6,963 local units), coupled with unfunded tax mandates.

The Illinois State Task Force on Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates released a 400+ page report offering possible solutions to the problems. The Task Force is a bipartisan group representing public and private organizations interested in strengthening the efficiency and accountability of government and education services. The recommendations are designed to help reduce property taxes, as well as modernize the delivery of local property tax services.

Multiple Layers of Local Government & Unfunded Mandates

Illinois is the only state where a majority of residents pay property tax to three different levels of government: county, township, and municipal. As the task force report explains, “This can lead to duplication of services and unnecessary layers of bureaucracy.”

The other issue that drives up property taxes is unfunded mandates. The Illinois Municipal League identified 266 new unfunded state mandates imposed since 1982 – an average of 8 new unfunded mandates per year. The Illinois Association of School Boards documented 145 unfunded state mandates imposed on schools since 1992 – more than 6 new unfunded mandates per year.

Some of the most costly unfunded mandates are:

1.
Public Pensions
2.
Collective Bargaining and Interest Arbitration
3.
Worker’s Compensation
4.
Health Insurance

Addressing costly unfunded mandates in conjunction with local government consolidation will alleviate the strain placed on taxpayers and help improve service delivery of essential public services, according to the report.

The Fix

The Task Force voted to endorse 27 recommendations to the Illinois Legislature. Among the proposals are the following:

Enact a four-year moratorium on creating new local governments
Empower citizens to consolidate or dissolve local governments via referendum
Remove the 126-square mile cap on townships to allow consolidation
Provide the Illinois State Board of Education flexibilities to incentivize school district consolidation
Encourage regional sharing of public equipment, facilities, training, resources, and administration functions
Make collective bargaining permissive instead of mandatory
Pass a constitutional amendment on unfunded state mandates
Give control of new employee retirement benefit packages back to local governments
The Task Force acknowledges that the motivation for consolidation and reform differs by region, which suggests these decisions must be made locally. However, for property taxes to ultimately be reduced, state agencies and lawmakers must do their part to promote efficiencies for local governments and schools