Suntimes opinionChicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown explains the connection between property taxes and school funding inequality:

Depending on what day it is, Gov. Bruce Rauner says freezing property taxes is one of the two remaining priority items on his Illinois turnaround agenda.

I don’t need to take a poll to know that’s music to the ears of many of you who are feeling the bite of some of the highest property taxes in the country.

And it also sounds good to many of you here in the city, where residential property taxes are comparatively not quite so high (believe it or not), although that’s about to change.

The problem is that I don’t hear Rauner talking about the relationship between those high property taxes and how we fund education in this state.

I know you’ve heard this before, but it must never be forgotten that the main reason Illinois residents pay such high property taxes is that we rely too heavily on the property tax to pay for local schools.

We rely too heavily on the property tax because the state won’t live up to its constitutional commitment to provide most school funding from its own tax revenue sources.

Our worst-in-the-nation property taxes go hand in hand with our worst-in-the-nation state support for schools.

And now the state’s ability to provide money to schools has been impaired even more by the decision to let the temporary state income tax increase lapse — a decision Rauner helped force.

All this fits together, and it’s just ridiculous for Rauner to be insisting on a property tax freeze without a clear recognition of how it would make the school funding problem even worse.

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, has the unenviable task of trying to explain this to voters.

For the past year, Manar has been hard at work with a group of legislators trying to find a more fair way for Illinois to fund its schools.

The current system punishes property-poor school districts such as those in Chicago’s south suburbs as well as rural districts down his way.

In those areas, homeowners suffer the double whammy of ridiculously high property tax rates and schools that still don’t have enough money to give their students the education they deserve.

If the only way people have to pay for their schools is through property taxes, then residents of those school districts bite the bullet and pay high property taxes.

But if you freeze their property taxes and shut off the spigot of local revenue at a time the state is reducing its funding, Manar said, it will “absolutely cripple those schools.”

Many would be forced to close, he said.

Because of the politics, Manar concedes, a property tax freeze is “something that is very difficult to be against.”

“How does anybody oppose a property tax freeze?” he said.

But that’s what Senate Democrats did, arguing that it would be irresponsible without at the same time addressing the gross inequities in education.

“You have to address schools in order to address property taxes, if that’s the goal,” Manar said.

Implicit in Manar’s comment is confusion over exactly what the governor’s goal is.

That’s a confusion I share. I don’t expect Rauner to clarify his goals in the television ad campaign we are told he is about to unleash.

Candidate Rauner once campaigned for “comprehensive tax reform.”

He was never terribly specific about what he meant by that, but most people see it as including a better mix of taxes that produces more revenue for the state, not less.

Rauner has said he could support a sales tax on services, and from what I can decipher from the reports out of Springfield, he hasn’t ruled out restoring some of the income tax increase.

But that’s a complicated task, and with Rauner trying to take the Legislature in so many different directions at once, it’s no surprise he’s settled on something more suitable to populist demagoguery.

“Ultimately, we have to have more resources,” Manar said.

Tired of paying high property taxes?

Chicago Sun-Times

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