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A one-time shot in the arm for local governments

Thursday, Dec 17, 2015

* From a reader…


I was wondering if I can ask you for some advice? Almost two years ago I met with [redacted] to discuss a change to the way Illinois collects property that that would generate almost $30 billion in additional one-time revenues over time without increasing taxes. [Redacted] thought it was a really good idea and placed me in touch with [redacted]. I spoke with [redacted] and he also thought it was a very good idea. Needless to say, nothing ever happened. Do you have any suggestion as to how I might bring this idea to the attention of people with real authority? I am an attorney now involved in business and I think this idea would really help the State of Illinois.

Any suggestion you might offer would be greatly appreciated.

* I told him to send me the info…

Illinois collects property taxes in arrears. In 2015 Illinois collected 2014 property taxes and in 2016 Illinois will collect 2015 property taxes. At the end of the world, Illinois will still be behind one year in the collection of property taxes.

Based upon 2014 figures, Illinois can generate at least $27.7 billion[1] in additional property tax revenues over time if it could collect the prior year taxes and collect taxes in the current year to fund 2016 appropriations.

When real estate is sold in Illinois, the buyer and seller prorate property taxes. The seller gives a credit to the buyer for the unpaid taxes and the buyer agrees to assume liability for unpaid taxes. Property tax prorations cover both the prior tax year, if still unpaid, and the current tax year. Even when property is sold after the second installment of taxes has been paid, none of the current year taxes have been collected.

By transitioning the Illinois property tax system when property is sold, funds paid by the seller to the buyer for prior year and current year property taxes would be paid by the seller to the state to retire the prior year and outstanding current year property tax liability. After the closing, the new buyer will then pay its taxes in advance as is the practice is most sates. No property owner would pay more in property taxes as a result of the transition even though at least one additional year of property tax revenue would be collected.

In other words, rather than prorating property taxes between the buyer and seller, the seller would pay what would otherwise be the prorated amounts to the state and discharge the tax liability. No one would pay more in taxes, tax revenues would just be collected faster without any detriment to the current property owners. By implementing this change, approximately $27.7 billion of Illinois unfunded pension liabilities would be addressed over time in current dollars. The $27.7 billion in property taxes could be paid into the State of Illinois teachers’ pension system or the City of Chicago teachers’ pension system for property located in Chicago.

I note that Illinois is one of thirteen states that collect property taxes in arrears; other states include Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.

[1] $27,706,994,500 in property taxes were extended in 2014 according to the Illinois Department of Revenue, 2014 Property Tax Statistics, Table 1.

The realtors would probably hate this idea because it would drive up the cost of some home sales, and it probably wouldn’t raise a huge amount of money every year, but it would give locals a boost.

Your thoughts?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Brian - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 10:54 am:

    So what happens next year when you need the $27.7 billion to fund what it would normally fund?

  2. - jerry 101 - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 10:57 am:

    I don’t know about the proposal, but I recall reading that Illinois is on an arrears property tax payment schedule due to a sustained tax strike back in the early 20th century.

  3. - Dome Gnome - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 10:58 am:

    How would the transition occur when property doesn’t change hands? It would just be business as usual until the property owner or estate is ready to sell? How long would it take, at this rate, to get all properties up to speed?

  4. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:05 am:

    Brian, what do you mean?

  5. - Anon - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:10 am:


  6. - qualified somebody nobody sent - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:14 am:

    Property taxes don’t belong to the State. They’re a way to fund local tax districts up to the County level only. This blog subject is a complete fantasy. The Cook County Assessor just finished 2015 initial property values. The Cook County BOR isn’t even half way finished with their take on 2015 values. I think he’s confusing PROPERY TAXES WITH a State fee attached to property sales.

  7. - Touré's Latte - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:15 am:

    “Say, would you like to pay two years taxes? You would not be paying more, you would just be paying last year and this year in one shot.”

    “No thank you. What office did you say you are losing next election?”

  8. - mjrothjr - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:17 am:

    I don’t know how this would work in practice, especially in Cook County, where the actual amount of the tax bill isn’t fixed until the second installment bill comes due in the fall of the following year, and depends on the tax levies, rates and equalization factor set during the following year. Plus, this would create two classes of properties - those that have been sold and now pay taxes in advance, and those that haven’t and pay taxes in arrears. That seems like something that would be hard for the assessor and treasurer to handle.

  9. - Judgment Day - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:24 am:

    If I’m following the concept being pitched here, you are talking about messing with the entire escrow amount (specifically property taxes) that is owed by the seller to the buyer.

    Currently, to-be-paid property taxes by the new property owner are held in escrow and are treated as an adjustment at the time of closing. There is usually a settlement sheet prepared, and one of the items listed is the property taxes.

    The logic is:

    + money: = To new owner (buyer), as the upcoming property tax liability will be in their name (tax bill name & address will be changed).

    - money: = To seller, they owned the property for part of the time the tax bill is for, so they should ‘pay’ their real estate taxes for the time they owned the property.

    Currently, it’s all estimated between seller and buyer, so there is no actual cash moving between the 2 parties. It’s all on paper, and the upcoming property tax liability is transferred from the seller to the buyer.

    If I understand what is being pitched here, the actual property tax liability (for the upcoming year) would be established and the money (actual cash instead of paper cash) would be delivered into the tender, highly responsible hands of the State of Illinois.

    Um, why don’t we ask the funeral home directors how having the state of Illinois holding escrow accounts worked for them?

    IMO, this needs to be thought through in a little more detail. I just really don’t think this is going to be a particularly great idea in practice.

  10. - DuPage - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:27 am:

    Another wiz-bang idea that will not work.

    A better idea might be to bring residential property assessments in Cook County up to the same percentage level as the rest of the state.

  11. - Archimedes - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:28 am:

    The proposal relies on cash basis accounting. The vast majority of local governments are on modified accrual accounting. This means they have included the current year property taxes (that have not yet been paid) as a current asset that is available to retire liabilities.

    Long story short - this move is removes that $27 billion of assets from the local government books to the State. It will, in the long run, deprive the local governments of $27 billion to retire debt and expenses.

    All the proposal does is move money from local government to the State - it seems painless because the buyer/seller of the property don’t see any difference in their transaction or tax liability. But the State gets the money that the local government would have eventually gotten.

    So this seems like a good deal for the State, neutral for the buyer/seller, and a bad deal for local government.

  12. - illinifan - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:30 am:

    Not sure what I am missing on this idea. After the year one boost in money where the income from the taxes available is doubled, then all the years after the funds stabilize. When the end of the world comes I won’t be too worried about property taxes being one year behind and I would hazard a guess that no one else will care either.

  13. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:30 am:

    ===But the State gets the money===

    Um, no.

  14. - Rayne of Terror - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:34 am:

    One problem I see is that the transition could takes decades. I do plenty of sales where the home hasn’t sold in 40 years. A transition time of decades could lead to so many screw ups along the way. Another problem is what about the portion of the year Buyer needs to pay for. Does buyer pony up at closing too for their part of the year? I suppose here’s where it can raise the cost of the closing. Let’s say you close March 1. Then Seller pays for 1 year plus 60 days of property taxes. Does buyer need to bring $$ for 305 days of the year to closing?

  15. - Not it - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:38 am:

    Were the redacted either his State Rep or Senator? Ask them to file a bill on behalf of him as a constituent.

  16. - burbanite - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:42 am:

    It will never happen. Our property taxes are the only bill I know of where you are incurring the liability prior to the establishment of what that liability is. One of the reasons we pay a year behind is because the amount we have to pay has not yet been determined. So normally at a real estate closing the proration to the buyer is 105 or 110% of the last known bill b/c we don’t know yet what the bill is for lets say 2015. In Cook County you don’t even know what the bill for the full previous year is until the second installment bill comes out. The taxing bodies determine they need x dollars, then the assessor determines the total assessed values of all the properties in their twp, then the tax rate is determined so that they can reach the dollars that they need, regardless of the value of the properties. That is why in some communities where property values are low, tax rates are super high. They want to be able to retroactively jack your bill, that is why we pay a year behind.

  17. - Last Bull Moose - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:43 am:

    Clever financial thinking. Not sure it would be worth the effort. Property owned by corporations might never switch. Property with multiple owners might be partially transitioned. Buyers would need to know the tax status and sales prices would drop by the amount of the extra tax collected at sale.
    While it could technically be done, I do not think it worth the political effort.

  18. - Ghost - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:43 am:

    it is sleight of hand.

    one time revenue always gets us int trouble. this creates one time revenue when you switch to paying in advance. bit once toy complete the change no extra money

  19. - Shemp - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:49 am:

    I am with Brian, you just pull ahead one-time and double people’s property tax bills for a year. And this guy passed the bar exam?

  20. - PMcP - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:53 am:

    From an accounting perspective this doesn’t create anything. Just because it’s collected in a particular year doesn’t mean the revenue wasn’t accrued in a different one. The only thing you’d be gaining is the interest/investment return on having the cash up-front, you do not gain the cash on this at all.

  21. - tominchicago - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:56 am:

    This would require the Treasurer and the Clerk to track the payments already made when the next tax bill goes out. My guess is that their systems are not up to that sort of subtlety.

  22. - siriusly - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 11:56 am:

    Great idea. I prefer more transparent simpler tax policies. Except I don’t want to pay twice in the transition year….

  23. - Steve Reick - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 12:12 pm:

    == [I]t would drive up the cost of some home sales, and it probably wouldn’t raise a huge amount of money every year==
    Actually, unpaid installments/prorations have no impact on the cost of a house (other than the fact that high taxes tend to suppress housing values overall). They’re just a means of assuring that the parties are square on who’s on the hook for taxes through the date of closing. The seller’s giving the buyer his or her share of the current taxes so the buyer can pay the whole bill when it comes due the next year, using the seller’s credit to pay the seller’s share.
    The biggest effect is to give sellers an additional deduction on their Federal income taxes and the property tax credit on their IL tax returns. Otherwise it’s a zero sum.

  24. - Judgment Day - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 12:28 pm:

    “This would require the Treasurer and the Clerk to track the payments already made when the next tax bill goes out. My guess is that their systems are not up to that sort of subtlety.”
    You would be putting County Treasurers across the State in the position of not just taking third party partial tax payments issued by the State of Illinois, but also re-adjusting tax distribution amounts ‘on the fly’ for those partial tax payment amounts.!

    Remember, those distribution amounts have to be done down to the fund level for each tax district. You have to assume, for software purposes, that having to re-set the distribution numbers could result to some tax district fund numbers being adjusted to a fraction of a penny. That’s going to be interesting…..

    IMO, just don’t do this.

  25. - the Other Anonymous - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 12:37 pm:

    The idea would work if we were a state that taxed based on a percentage of value. We are not. We are a state that taxes based on the levy, and so it literally takes a year for the property tax bill to be fixed.

    If we wanted to collect property taxes in the same year they are levied, then local governments would have to set their budgets a year ahead of time. And that’s not really a good idea, given that so much can change in a year.

    Also, for the revenue to actually materialize, Toure Latte is exactly right: property owners would be getting a bill for two years in the same calendar year. I can’t imagine that will go over well.

  26. - Anon - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 12:44 pm:


    I think the following is the part that is confusing to some of the readers:

    ===By implementing this change, approximately $27.7 billion of Illinois unfunded pension liabilities would be addressed over time in current dollars.===

    I recognize this attorney is trying to sell this as a way to resolve some of the pension liabilities, but in the future the author needs to make it more clear that the revenues remain at the local level for local use.

    In terms of the idea itself, it’s clever but it still doesn’t really address the problems. Illinois taxpayers pay property tax in the arrears. This proposal slowly changes property tax to paying in advance when the property changes ownership.

    There are some issues about the difficulty of every assessor in the state being able to maintain duplicate books for paid in arrears and paid in advance property for many years. To avoid this, there should be a hard deadline for the change to be made, something like 10 or 20 years.


    Not every home buyer is a first time home buyer. These home buyers would be dinged for 2015 taxes in 2016 on the old house and 2016 taxes on the new house in 2016.

    The total cost of purchasing a home will be higher to the buyer. This will either result in higher mortgage amounts, or larger up front expenses to the buyer.

    When a parent dies and the property is transferred from the estate past year and current year taxes will be due and will have to come from the same pot again.
    So, when this is sold as “no one’s taxes increase” for most consumers at some point in time they’re going to wind up owing two years of property tax in the same year.

    This is a tax policy — any time a tax policy is discussed there questiosn that should be answered about equity, who pays, and so forth. This $27 billion dollars is coming from somewhere — and it’s not coming from a new levy — it’s coming from requiring taxpayers to submit a double payment and then to continue as if nothing has occured. That’s still $27 billion dollars that will be extracted from household incomes and from household budgets. Property taxes are assessed on the idea that the property has value — I find it unlikely that at any given time will there be a taxpayer that is going to have a random year where the value or use they receive from their property doubles.

    The worst part is that’s $27 billion dollars that is being extracted ahead of schedule that the author recommends using to pay down debts that were inccured by decades of failing to collect enough revenues, and it’s something that’s being targeted on first time home buyers — you know, the folks that are starting out their lives saddled with student debt because the state and federal government decided to let student costs increase rather than levy taxes to provide education.

    There are better tools available to pay those liabilities that wouldn’t have the impact of doubling the tax collected on a single piece of property in one year and then claiming that it’s not a tax increase.

  27. - Anon - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 12:52 pm:

    The TL:DR of my above post is:

    ===No property owner would pay more in property taxes as a result of the transition even though at least one additional year of property tax revenue would be collected.===

    Sure, but their payment doubles. Where are those funds supposed to come from? They’re already included in a transaction.

  28. - Jake From Elwood - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 12:57 pm:

    The only way this plan works is if there is a double property tax payment one year. Nobody in the General Assembly is going to vote yes on a double property tax even if for just one year.
    Pipedreams don’t usually become law, not even in Illinois.

  29. - Rayne of Terror - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 12:57 pm:

    @Steve Reick, if buyer’s have to bring their portion of the property taxes for the year to the closing so that the entire sum can be paid through the PTAX at closing, then it could add a lot of money to the closing, especially early in the year. Imagine a January 2nd closing, Seller pays 1 year and 2 days of property tax, Buyer pays 363 days of property tax at the closing. In the suburbs I imagine this could tack on an addition 15k to what it brought to closing.

  30. - what do i know - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 1:12 pm:

    i think its a good idea, but i also thought lowering the ramp was a no brainer.

  31. - Phil King - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 1:20 pm:

    It’s still raising taxes, as others have said. You’re asking them to pay double this year to “catch up” to a date none of us will live to see (the end of taxes.)

    The $27bil comes from somewhere, and that’s current tax payers.

  32. - Steve Reick - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 1:23 pm:

    @Rayne: Good thought, but 2 problems:
    1. It’s only applicable to properties that change hands, everybody else pays as they currently do. It sets up a 2 tier payment system that would be totally unworkable from an administrative standpoint;
    2. It’ll only work once, and only with those properties.
    The issue isn’t the timing of property tax payments, the issue is one of a property tax system that allows the State to hide its profligacy by shifting the burden to local government.

  33. - Harry - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 1:33 pm:

    This doesn’t create value or even new revenue, it merely shifts some forward one year. Beyond that, at first impression it makes it less attractive to sell property as the former and new owner will, between them, have to pay 2 years of tax in one year. I would leave it to tax economists to figure out the actual incidence of the increase (who actually pays, the seller or buyer, after the price of the property adjusts.).

    Locals can accomplish the same budget gain with 1-yr tax anticipation notes, less interest, across their entire tax base–and I think quite a few do that.

    Trivial real impact in any year, and will somewhat distort economic activity and create administrative complications. I’m underwhelmed.

  34. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 1:45 pm:

    +1 to the reader and to Rich for this.

    It shows more initiative than most of our elected officials are showing right now.

  35. - Blue dog dem - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 1:53 pm:

    My experience with taxing entities is that they have little if any discipline. An infusion of extra dollars more than likely ends up in a spending spree.

  36. - Peters Post - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 2:12 pm:

    The Chicago Public Schools took 14 months worth of revenue last fiscal year. That has not worked out to well for we the taxpayers. I would prefer to pay today what it costs today. One time revenue creates a false impression of fiscal stability.

  37. - RNUG - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 3:16 pm:

    To boil this all down, the proposal is, for houses being sold, to pay double property taxes in the year of sale and to use the shifted revenue to partially pay down local pension shortfalls.

  38. - Rayne of Terror - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 3:17 pm:

    @Steve That’s what I said in my first comment, which was hung up in moderation I guess. I regularly do closings on houses that haven’t been sold in 40 years. We’d be looking at decades of two sets of books.

  39. - RNUG - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 3:51 pm:

    Ditto on the many years. My parents were in the same house for 60 years.

  40. - SAP - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 4:16 pm:

    Talk about short term pain

  41. - Steve Reick - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 5:33 pm:

    @Rayne: ==That’s what I said in my first comment, which was hung up in moderation I guess.==
    Yeah, if there’s a group in need of serious moderation, it’s those of us who do real estate closings.

  42. - thechampaignlife - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 7:18 pm:

    Creative idea. We need more like this. One I just thought of was returning the income tax to 5% but allow 0.25% to be opted out of and dedicate that funding to social services.

  43. - Robert Miller - Thursday, Dec 17, 15 @ 10:03 pm:

    I would like to respond to many comments posted in response to my proposal.

    First, the proposal does represent a one-time revenue enhancement just as the unfunded pension liabilities represent a one-time liability. By reducing $110 billion unfunded pension liability to $82.3 billion, the state would take a meaningful step forward to address this problem and likely improve the state’s credit rating which in turn would reduce borrowing costs and save money. I am confident that everyone would agree that saving money is a good thing.

    Second, even though two tax payments would be collected in the same year, sellers would pay the taxes for the period they owned the property and buyers pay taxes for the period they own the property. The seller pays no more than they owe or currently pay nor does the buyer. As a retired real estate attorney, escrows and prorations would be greatly simplified. The proposal is entirely fair to all parties and Illinois taxpayers.

    Third, it is correct that the state does not collect property taxes. Since, however, school pensions, except Chicago public schools, are covered by the state pension system, it is appropriate that the funds collected be directed to reduce the amount of unfunded pension liabilities. Since these funds would go directly into the pension funds they would not be subject to the whims of politicians.

    Fourth, the revenue received by local governmental units is in no way reduced. The funds received by the state for the prior year taxes are equal to the funds received by local governmental units for taxes now collected for the current year. The perception that local governments receive less revenue is wrong since under the current system of arrearage based collection, governmental units are always collecting one year behind so they can never capture property tax revenue for the current year.

    Fifth, a sunset provision would need to be included in the legislation, 30 - 50 years, to guarantee a complete transition in the state to the new system.

    Sixth, there a many details that I left out of the proposal since I don’t believe most people would not to read a twenty page proposal.

    One last comment regarding the anger expressed in many of comments. I do understand how people feel but the problem we inherited as taxpayers today we created as voters in past decades by electing representatives who concerned themselves with the “present” rather than the “future” we would come to inherit. This is our democracy and like or not we must accept both the benefits of our freedom as well as the burdens. We can argue about the past which is what is happening in Springfield or work to reclaim the future. All of the state’s financial issues can be resolved with creative thinking, discipline and modest sacrifice. I am an optimist, I admit my guilt.

    Thank you all.

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