Enduring years of tax increases at the state and local level,
Illinoisans have by now learned that they’re entitled to vote with their feet.
However, depending on the success of a bill recently filed in the General
Assembly, residents across the Land of Lincoln could be empowered to vote
directly against tax hikes at the ballot box.
House Bill 4490, filed Jan. 31 by state Rep. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park,
would put the fate of tax hikes in the hands of those who pay them. The bill
amends the Illinois Municipal Code, prohibiting municipal taxing bodies from
imposing on taxpayers “any tax increase or levy [or] any new or additional tax
without prior referendum approval.”
The change would include both home-rule and non-home-rule municipalities, and
would be effective immediately upon becoming law.
Average property tax bills have grown six times faster than household incomes in
Illinois. But by narrowing the path between public treasuries and taxpayer
pockets, local officials would be forced to think creatively and constructively
about fiscal management.
Out-of-control costs of government are a common problem for municipalities
across Illinois – but it’s not unsolvable. In fact, some local governments have
even begun to ease their residents’ tax burden on their own. In December,
members of the Lakewood village board voted to cut Lakewood’s property tax levy
by 10 percent. The board achieved this by targeting administrative bloat. By
consolidating management positions with duplicative roles, the village was able
to reduce compensation costs and offer relief to taxpayers.
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And this wasn’t the first fiscal reform initiated
by the village. In May, Lakewood village trustees voted to dissolve
Lakewood’s Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district. TIFs divert
tax dollars away from public bodies and into opaque funds, where
revenues are often reallocated to chosen companies in exchange for
the promise of investment. The idea behind TIF is to stimulate
economic activity, but evidence has shown that it more often
squanders local revenues.
HB 4490 would pressure local governments to follow Lakewood’s lead
in exploring measures that reduce spending and therefore property
By hinging tax hikes on voter approval, HB 4490 would demand more
disciplined actions from public officials. In particular, it would
add pressure on local leaders to exercise greater transparency with
While skipping town is often taxpayers’ chosen rebuke to routine tax
hikes, HB 4490 would make “no” an option.
With HB 4490 signed into law, local lawmakers would be forced to
sell voters on the idea of a tax increase before it’s written in
stone. As a result, lawmakers would be forced to exercise greater
caution when considering potential new expenditures.
Enhanced fiscal accountability would invite enhanced fiscal
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