Shifty Trio only have eyes for Chicago
Herald-News editorial June 28, 2012 8:14PM
Updated: July 30, 2012 6:28AM
So now the “urgent” matter of pension reform in Illinois won’t happen for at least another month to allow for a study of all school funding in the state. Republican legislative leaders are insisting on the study before they consider backing the Democrats’ controversial plan to shift teacher pension costs from the state to local school districts.
We oppose that shift because it would mean higher property tax bills. Struggling school districts would have no realistic alternative but to raise taxes to cover pension costs. It’s a shell game to dump the pension crisis on local taxpayers when it’s lawmakers who over decades created this mess.
But with Gov. Pat Quinn, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) pushing hard for the move, it’s likely to happen — after the Nov. 6 election. The Shifty Trio contend that the current system of financing teacher pensions is unfair to Chicago property taxpayers because they pay twice — to the state for suburban and downstate teachers and to the city for Chicago teachers.
Quinn says property tax bills won’t go up with the cost shift, that suburban and downstate school districts have enough cash in reserve to absorb the new costs without jacking up their tax levy. We’re not buying it. What happens when those reserve funds run out?
Chicago homeowners have a much lighter property tax burden than suburbanites. Chicago’s 5.4 percent tax rate is half that of the average of suburban Cook County (10.5 percent) because of the city’s large business tax base.
And that disparity is much greater, for example, in south Cook County where many towns have lost a lot of business and industrial land and where tax rates are a lot higher.
Chicago taxpayers now pay $164 a year more than those in the suburbs for teacher pensions, according to the Chicago Public Schools. That’s not a lot when you consider how much less a Chicagoan pays in property tax for a similar home.
The Shifty Trio’s plan might be more fair to Chicagoans, but it would be crushing to many homeowners in south Cook and Will counties.