Property Tax Cutting Referendums

State Rep. Allen Skillicorn asked the Legislative Research Unit to take a look at two questions:

  1. Could property taxes have been lowered by referendum before PTELL [FN 1] [called the Property Tax Cap by most folks]?  If so, did that ever occur?
  2. Is it still possible in the non-PTELL counties to do so?  If so, can a PTELL county revert to non-PTELL status?

McHenry County Blog will share the reply over the next few days.

Occurrences of Property Tax Reduction Referenda

The Illinois Municipal League47 and IDOR48 had no information on instances of referenda to reduce property taxes.

We are awaiting a reply from the State Board of Elections on whether it has any such records other than those described below.

We will forward to you any information we receive from the Board.

We describe below the searches we conducted in the State Board of Elections’ referenda database and NewsBank’s database of Illinois newspapers. We also describe what we found using these searches.

Board of Elections Referenda Database

We used the State Board of Elections’ referenda database[FN 49] to find referenda addressing property taxes; Appendix A reports our findings.

The referenda database contains local referenda beginning in 1995; so it does not contain any referenda from years before PTELL was enacted (in 1991).

We specifically looked for referenda that either are listed in the “tax” category or have the referendum type “tax.”

The “tax” category includes 1,034 referenda; the referendum  ype “tax” includes 3,838 referenda.

(Those categories likely overlap, but we did not attempt to determine how many referenda are in both.)

Within those results, we searched for any of these five words:

  • decrease
  • reduc__
  • lower
  • relief
  • instead

The most common place where such words were found was in the descriptions of referendum questions. Although those descriptions give an overview of what was proposed, they do not always describe completely what a referendum would do.

(For example, although most descriptions seem to report the exact text of ballot questions, some have ellipses (“. . .”) in place of some of that text. We repeated the referendum questions verbatim in Appendix A except for correcting a few spelling errors.)

Thus it is possible that our search did not find all referenda that proposed to reduce property tax rates.

Most referendum questions containing the word “relief” proposed to raise sales or other taxes to pay for operations or infrastructure spending, or to provide property tax relief. [FN 50]

Over 500 included the word “instead”——mostly comparing proposed rates to existing rates. (Nearly all of those referenda proposed rate increases.)

Appendix A to this letter shows information from the State Board of Elections’ referenda database on the 14 referenda
that meet the requirements above, and notes the counties that are not subject to PTELL. [FN 51]

Most referenda did not propose to reduce property tax rates.

One reason for the small number may be that taxing bodies can reduce property tax levies without a referendum, but increases sometimes require voter approval.

More tomorrow.

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