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Zalewski admits property tax taskforce has failed

Monday, Mar 9, 2020 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Rep. Mike Zalewski, who chairs the House Revenue Committee, talked to Capitol News Illinois about the property tax taskforce’s inability to come to an agreement on solutions to one of the state’s biggest problems and the way forward

“There were some things that I saw out of that Republican press conference that aren’t bad. Use-it-or-lose-it isn’t a bad idea,” he said, referring to a proposal by Republican Rep. Dan Ugaste, of Geneva, to cap the amount of money school districts can hold in reserve.

Zalewski said one other Republican-backed proposal he could support is expanding certain property tax exemptions for seniors and other homeowners that limit how much of their property value is subject to taxation.

One he said he would not favor, though, is imposing a property tax “freeze” on local governments. […]

Zalewski said he is also interested in proposals to make school districts more efficient, including the possibility of consolidating elementary and high school districts into “unit” districts. That could be hard to sell in many communities, including his hometown of Riverside, he added.

“I live in Riverside School District 96, elementary, and Riverside School District 208, high school,” he said. “And and I will say anecdotally, people complain about the property taxes around my neck of the woods. But I also think they really want good schools. People moved to Riverside for the nature of the schools. So that’s the conundrum we face right now.”

* He also talked about Republican complaints that their property tax reform bills aren’t advancing out of the House Rules Committee

When it comes to bills not being heard. You know, I would simply say that we’re getting into a little bit of a habit, with some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, demanding bills get called that haven’t necessarily been requested from Rules. So I can’t, I can’t look at bills that aren’t out of Rules and aren’t even being requested out of Rules. … On property taxes specifically, we tend to hide behind process, you know, ‘My bills haven’t been called in committee, my bills are not getting a vote on the floor.’ You got to move beyond process. I think there’s enough bipartisan desire on this to get something done or get a few things done. And so, you know, let’s move past process complaints and let’s start talking about something.

* Looking ahead, Zalewski said there were several things they could do

The first is evidence-based funding, which we did a couple years ago and the idea is to flow as much money as you possibly can into schools from the state. As a result of the money coming from the state, they’re less desirous of going to the voters or going to the max levy in their tax cap laws. And so you have the effect of stabilizing property taxes.

The second is using existing tools at our disposal, so you’re talking about the homestead exemption the senior exemption, the owner occupied exemption. Expanding those tools. […]

I think the third option is probably a little more draconian than people would prefer, but going back to the freeze idea that was bandied about a few years ago. I don’t like that idea, I think it was proven to be not great. […]

Use it or lose it isn’t a bad idea. … Now if they’re sitting on reserves for capital reasons or they’re sitting on reserves for a specific purpose. That’s one thing but if they’re squirreling money and still going to the max every year that strikes me and it probably strikes some of my Republican colleagues as challenging. […]

I don’t have any aversion to looking to school districts and seeing if there’s efficiencies within them to consolidate. I don’t know how appropriately the Association of Illinois School Boards will feel about that. They tend to tell us that they’re each and every one of them does a really nice job.


  1. - JS Mill - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 1:59 pm:

    =use it or lose it=

    One of the dumbest ideas I have heard in a long time. They are clearly oblivious to the fact that they are the single biggest reason schools have reserves.

  2. - Say What? - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 1:59 pm:

    The commentary on minority bills sent to the burial ground that is the Rules Committee that “they need to move beyond process” is classic.

    Notwithstanding the merit(s) of these bills, and the likelihood of passage, “move beyond the process“ is an interesting way to characterize a dynamic entirely controlled by the majority.

  3. - Dan Johnson - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 2:01 pm:

    Glad to hear Chairman Z likes the use it or lose it. I was borderline shocked when I got into local government how huge some of these reserves are. I also think back-office consolidation of all local governments is overdue. Does every community need an HR, IT, and Executive Director for their library, park district, school district(s) and municipality? (Spoiler alert: no).

  4. - Lil Squeezy - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 2:04 pm:

    “use or lose it” isn’t a bad idea…said in advance of a possible global recession.

  5. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 2:05 pm:

    Here’s the deal;

    I’ve nominated Rep. Zalewski for a Golden Horseshoe exactly for the things I’m reading… his candor, willingness to look at and see merit in bipartisan ideas, his honesty to issue and to the challenges, and frankly saying where things fall short, and where the process itself can be better.

    The General Assembly would be a better place to cooperation and moving policy forward with more members on both sides of the aisle that would look at the “job” and he challenges with this honesty and candor.

    Lots to digest, but I’d leave it here as why I’ve felt the three legged stool of property tax relief, K-12 school funding, higher education funding…

    ===“… people complain about the property taxes around my neck of the woods. But I also think they really want good schools. People moved to Riverside for the nature of the schools. So that’s the conundrum we face right now.”===

    Knowing that, acknowledging that, seeing that obstacle, that’s huge to remove the phony angst brought upon by regional anger for politics.

    This is all good stuff, Representative.


  6. - Precinct Captain - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 2:08 pm:

    ==- Say What? - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 1:59 pm:==

    If you’re not even trying to get a bill moved out of Rules, maybe you don’t have any credibility on the issue. That’s what Rep. Zalewski is saying

  7. - Pick a Name - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 2:14 pm:

    So, it took about a year to come to this conclusion.

    The wonderful workings of the Illinois politicians .


  8. - Donnie Elgin - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 2:18 pm:

    Do nothing - but explain how your tried really hard.

  9. - Lefty Lefty - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 2:20 pm:

    Consolidation and administrative costs have to be on the table. Why does a single-building school district even exist? Why does one high school need its own superintendent?

    Meanwhile many superintendents are making north of $200K a year, some over $300K along with enough support staff to run a small city.

    Something’s got to give. Small steps are a start.

  10. - frustrated GOP - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 2:35 pm:

    Consolidation of 1 building schools needs to happen, but don’t think consolidation is going to be easy or save huge sums of money. One, the increase cost of contract employees to the higher contract will eat up all the initial savings, and someone is going to have to tell 2 school districts next to each other they need to merge. Because we have so many different schools. it’s not easy.

    How about taxing hospitals. they seem to have a few dollars and continue to grow. Healthcare costs have outpaced inflation and everything else. maybe the “exempt” hospitals need to start picking up the table a bit.

  11. - Drake Mallard - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 2:37 pm:

    Donnie Elgin
    He was telling the truth. A refreshing thing to hear from a representative. He tried and explain why he couldn’t do it. I think he deserves kudos

  12. - Just Another Anon - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 2:38 pm:

    Consolidation is the only way to effectively reroute monies from the admin/bureaucracy and get it re-purposed to the classrooms where it belongs. The good side, more money for classrooms. The bad side, administrators have PACs too….

  13. - Ducky LaMoore - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 2:45 pm:

    “Why does a single-building school district even exist?”

    Free will. Local control. The priorities of my little town are not necessarily the priorities of the next town or county over. I will gladly pay what is necessary to remain a smaller school district and not have to bus my kids 20 miles to school.

  14. - Truth Teller - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 2:48 pm:

    Finally we hear some honest statements about the problem from a legislator vs the usual political positioning on this issue.

    Consolidation is not truly a solution unless the state is going to cover the differences in salary between two districts or an elementary and high school district. I recall when it was studied in the Classroom’s First Commission, the price tag to raise salaries to the high school salary schedules was around $2.8B.

    He is right - the real solution is to fully fund EBF. Not by just using the minimum funding level of $350M and not by holding back $150M for the passage of the amendment. But by fully funding. Then districts will be able to pull back on property tax dependence.

  15. - anon2 - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 3:00 pm:

    Illinois has more units of local government than any other state. That is one cause of high property taxes.

    A more important one is that Illinois provides a smaller proportion of state funding for public schools than other states. Yet Republicans will oppose higher state taxes even if the revenues are earmarked for schools that lower property taxes. Gov. Edgar wanted to do it in his second term, but Pate killed it.

  16. - Sue - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 3:11 pm:

    There are many HS districts in Illinois stand free of their local k- 8 school districts. Why do communities need to pay for two administrations with significant salaries when you could consolidate the High school with the primary grades. Those communities would still have local schools and lose dozens of administrators with 6 figure salaries

  17. - Just Reading... - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 3:14 pm:

    Some very interesting comments from some. Rich, I think you should establish a “like” button feature for responses like they have on Facebook.

  18. - Shemp - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 3:14 pm:

    Still just nibbling at the edges. Half of the levy in our town’s portion is police and fire pension levies. The State needs to get serious on a swap. Pensions need paid, roads need rebuilt, kid need taught. Illinois just Chooses to have its local governments do it through the least popular tax available.

  19. - Ducky LaMoore - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 3:17 pm:

    “Those communities would still have local schools and lose dozens of administrators with 6 figure salaries”

    Just what small towns need, less good paying jobs.

  20. - City Zen - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 3:24 pm:

    ==Just what small towns need, less good paying jobs.==

    Maybe everyone in town can be a school administrator.

  21. - Say What? - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 3:41 pm:

    = Precinct Captain - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 2:08 pm:=

    The point I am making is that these bills have been requested to move out of the Rules Committee repeatedly.

    Just suggesting that one cannot set up something as phony as the Rules Committee, that ironically circumvents all “Rules” in terms of public notice, hearings, et. al., and then suggest that the other side isn’t availing themselves of the proper “process”.

    That is disingenuous on its’ face and not close to how the “process” works in the current reality.

    Release the bills that have been repeatedly requested, hold hearings and vote them up or down. The Rep. is a good guy and knows better than the “process” commentary.

    A statement indicating “I do not control which bills are bottled up and which are not” would be more accurate.

  22. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 4:05 pm:

    == The second is using existing tools at our disposal, so you’re talking about the homestead exemption the senior exemption, the owner occupied exemption. Expanding those tools. ==

    People need to recognize all those tools do is shift the property tax cost from one set of homeowners to a different set of homeowners.

  23. - SSL - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 4:27 pm:

    There are a lot of smart people on this blog. No one can be surprised that nothing came of this.

  24. - Sue - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 4:27 pm:

    Truth teller. Why in all that is holy would a K- 12 District need to pay a K teacher the Same as a HS teacher. The CBA could distinguish salary grades just as single primary and single HS districts do today. My District for HS has two schools with 28 admin jobs and a K-8 district with 5 schools and nearly 30 admin positions. The percentage of School District salaries throughout Illinois is obscenely higher then the national average. My own K-12 District in NY had two HS’s 4 middle schools and 12 k-5 buildings all of which today has fewer administrators then my suburban HS district with 2 buildings

  25. - revvedup - Monday, Mar 9, 20 @ 6:11 pm:

    What we need is a committee, to establish a panel of blue-ribbon experts, to create a task force, in order to explain why nothing got done.

  26. - JoAnna - Tuesday, Mar 10, 20 @ 9:37 am:

    People don’t just move to riverside for the schools, they move there for an easy commute to Chicago. We need to not just focus on a very wealthy and relatively small town like Riverside. Look across Harlem ave to Berwyn with 2 school districts, high school and comm college all on the tax bills. Look at a town like Oak Park that has multiple districts - opportunities for consolidation are all around you.

  27. - Really - Tuesday, Mar 10, 20 @ 10:16 am:

    The fact of the matter that Rep Zalenski won’t admit is that this task force was not ever supposed to accomplish a thing. it was put in the bill to buy a vote or two. The folks that run Illinois don’t want to give any monies back to the taxpayers. His excuse is just that. An excuse, which happens to be the only thing that the people in Springfield and folks like Oswego Willy are good at.

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