Some find common ground on need for reducing Illinois’ high property taxes to boost economy

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There’s agreement from members of opposite parties and from opposite sides of the state on some things that could boost the state’s economy.

Other issues might not yet gel.

Illinois is among the states with the highest unemployment rate compared to this time last year. At 7.6 percent, the Land of Lincoln is tied with New Jersey for the 9th highest rate. On the other side of the spectrum, Nebraska and South Dakota have a rate of 3 percent.

Illinois state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, said policies in Illinois make for high costs of doing business. To best recover after the pandemic, he said that needs to change to be more attractive to business investment.

“Whether it’s work comp situations that cause Illinois work comp rates to be two-and-a-half times higher,” Bailey said. “Whether or not it’s just simply the burdensome everyday regulations.”

Bailey also pointed to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s go-it-alone approach in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to business closures across the state.

“We’ve got to have a reason for business to be attractive to Illinois and that’s where it all begins,” Bailey said. “That’s how we make Illinois prosperous again. We put people to work.”

One thing he said hurts business investment and even causes families to move to other states is Illinois’ high property taxes.

State Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, agreed.

“What we’re going to also have to do is look at the number of school districts that we have in the state of Illinois and they need to be consolidated,” Flowers said. “I did not say eliminated, I said consolidated.”

Illinois has around 850 different school districts drawing off state revenue and local property taxes. Illinois is behind only California for the total number of separate school districts, according to a Governing.com report.

Flowers was part of a task force to find solutions to reduce the state’s high property taxes, but that group never produced a final report. She said she’s confident new House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside, will bring people together to find solutions. Welch takes over leadership after nearly four decades of rule by state Rep. Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, the former House Speaker.

As to other reforms, like reducing workers’ compensation costs businesses pay, Flowers was more guarded.

“If they are trying to save money by not having the right scaffolding or the right type of equipment, there are consequences for that and I don’t think the workers should suffer,” Flowers said.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, some in the business community have for years said Illinois’ workers’ compensation costs are an outlier compared to neighboring states. Illinois’ property taxes are among the highest in the country. Illinois also has among the highest overall tax burdens compared to other states.

When solutions would surface is still unknown. The House and Senate canceled in-person session days this month with the exception of the House planning one day Feb. 10 to pass rules to allow for some form of remote legislating because of the pandemic.

Senate President Don Harmon’s office said Tuesday the chamber intends to move its scheduled session days in February online with virtual committee hearings.

“The early part of any new session is dominated by committee action. Given the ongoing pandemic, it makes sense to utilize the Senate’s remote committee meeting authority to continue doing the work of the people,” the office said. “We anticipate hearings being announced soon on key issues in addition to all standing committees having the opportunity to meet online during February.”

The next scheduled session day for the Senate is March 2, the same day the House is expected back.

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