Home Business Di Leo: Library tax hike may be the back-breaking last straw

Di Leo: Library tax hike may be the back-breaking last straw

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By John F. Di Leo - 

Two weeks before our local spring election, I received a personal postcard in the mail, encouraging me to vote Yes on the upcoming Library referendum, for the good of our community… for the good of our children.

I certainly like the public library. As a writer, I’ve used it to research issues… as an actor, I’ve used it to search for scripts… as a reader, I’ve used it to feed my various fiction habits (I used to go in for comic crime like Gregory McDonald and Donald Westlake, then as I aged, I gravitated more toward fantasy and sci fi.  Hmmm, maybe I’m regressing). So it’s reasonable to assume that I might be a “likely” supporter, worth the GOTV effort.

Now, mind you, this “personal postcard” wasn’t really personal.  It was handwritten, and signed, but not by anyone I actually know. This was an effort to utilize a standard campaign approach – the personalized postcard – without actually having real supporters use their real personal address books of friends and acquaintances, as it was always done back in my day, when we used such systems correctly.  This was an effort to fake personal endorsements, not to use real ones.

The math is always a challenge on these kinds of efforts.  The numbers are small, and with Illinois property taxes being managed by a goofy multiplier, they’re particularly difficult to get one’s head around.

In this case, the Palatine Library says their increase will be about $52 per house on the median home value in the district.  But what does that really mean?  For some of us, it will add $25 to our annual bill, for others, it will add $75 or even a hundred or more.  It all depends on the value of your home, not on how much you read.

For others, it won’t add anything, because some of the people who will vote in this election are in public housing and don’t pay property taxes at all.

We may ask ourselves what share of our tax bill is represented by the current levy, and what will this increase do to us?  They happily tell us that they haven’t raised their levy in 44 years, so we should be equally happy to vote yes.

But that’s deceptive, because property values have skyrocketed in those 44 years, and since their levy is a percentage of assessed valuation, their take has skyrocketed along with it.

There are different ways to read a percentage, too.  The local library proudly says it’s just an increase of .075%, which truly does sound minimal.

But the existing rate is .276%, and their proposal is to raise it to .351%.

 So, yes, viewed one way, that’s just seven and a half cents per dollar.

It sounds tiny.

But viewed another way, the fairer way, it’s a huge increase:  to go from .276% to .351% is actually to raise our library tax rate by almost thirty percent!

It’s all a matter of how you look at it. Statistics are tricky, and you can spin them to look huge or to look tiny, depending on your point of view.

To be fair, the library tax is one of the smallest figures on our property tax bill, and that fact won’t change.  It pales in comparison to what we pay the state and the school district for our roads, police, fire, grammar schools, high schools, community colleges and universities.  It’s a drop in the bucket.

If all those other costs were low – if we had no state income tax (many other states don't), or if it were lower than our neighbors – if we had no sales tax, or if our property taxes were generally low in comparison to our neighbors – well, then, such a drop in the bucket might be easily managed.

But that’s not our situation. 

Because our town happens to be in Cook County. 

…and Cook County happens to be in Illinois. 

…and Illinois happens to be in the United States.

And all of those jurisdictions – our county, our state, and our country – are already severely overtaxed.

One of the most basic rules of economics (magnificently illustrated by Arthur Laffer’s famous “Laffer Curve”) is the fact that as taxes skyrocket, production is depressed.  The higher the tax rate, the less people will work, invent, build, and otherwise contribute… because the higher the tax rate, the less worthwhile that additional work is.

We are already past the tipping point.  Whole industries have fled the county, the state, and the country over the past fifty years.  President Trump has had to resort to massive import duties and even quotas in a desperate attempt to stop this bleeding and get manufacturers to stay put, and hopefully even come back.

And even to the extent that the Administration is successful, wise companies will still flee Illinois, and especially Cook County. 

Employers are pulling up their stakes and moving across the border – into Indiana, into Wisconsin, into Iowa, into Kentucky.  And taxpaying residents are following them.  You go where your job goes.  You  have no choice.

Almost everyone you talk to today has an “Illinois Exit Plan.” People set timetables of a year, or two, or three.  They look for a way to switch their current job to be remote, so they can telecommute from home in Indiana. Or they look to retire, so they can move to Texas or Florida.  Or they just say goodbye to their current employer and find a new job across the border in Wisconsin.

On top of all this, as our local library boards and school districts beg for their small increases, the new administration in the state capitol building is plotting further destruction.  Illinois’ freshly-minted governor, J.B. Pritzker, is proposing billions in new taxes, oblivious to the effect that such plans would have on the state.

Illinois is already bleeding people – real residents – at a rate of about 50,000 per year. 

This is huge, and the economic impact is actually worse than that number would indicate, because there are always people coming in as well as people going out.  To get a net decrease of 50,000, you really have about a hundred thousand leave and only about fifty thousand coming in.  The hundred thousand who leave are primarily the workers, the entrepreneurs, the taxpayers. The fifty thousand who arrive are primarily the younger workers (at the lower end of the scale in both earnings and tax payments), the illegal aliens seeking our sanctuary state status, and the legal non-workers or bottom-level workers seeking our generous welfare state benefits.

The state is in such bad shape, even reasonable tax increases – if they occurred in a vacuum – are unreasonable in the real here and now.

If our total tax collection were low, could we afford another $52 a year?  Sure we could.

But our total tax collection is high. In fact, Illinois’ broad total tax burden is considered the highest in the country by several measures.  Those $25, $52, or $100 additional just might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for a lot of people.

…and not just for the current residents, either.

Have you ever shopped for a house? You consider the property taxes, the state income tax, the metro’s sales tax rate, all in addition to the neighborhood, the proximity to work and entertainment and school, and everything else outside the home itself. 

People set a maximum number, to make it easier.  “We won’t consider a state with an income tax above X.  We won’t consider a town with a sales tax above X.  We won’t consider a county where we have to pay another X per day in tolls just to take the expressway to and from work.” 

This county already exceeds such measures on almost any prospective mover’s list.

The result is, in the final analysis, no matter how justifiable a given tax hike may be in a vacuum, it cannot be justifiable in Illinois. 

Our homes are already notoriously hard to sell.  People leaving are held back by the fact that they can’t find buyers at a fair price, so they have to cut their price, and accept losses, just in order to get out, knowing that the longer we stay here, the more we lose.

The big government crowd – the library boards, the school districts, the city councils – who spent generations building massive structures as their city halls, schools and libraries – they are part of their own undoing.  It’s not just one area of expenditure over another – it’s all of them:  the bureaucrats, the teachers, the librarians, the whole bunch.

Big government begets big government.

Until the time comes when the people can’t take it anymore.

If there are enough voters on election day with sense, they elect reformers before it’s too late.

But in Illinois, even that type of restraint has been thwarted, as the machine just creates illegal votes – in cemeteries, in dormitories, in jails and in illegal alien ghettos – in sufficient numbers to ensure that the will of the people never comes out on top.

So even a little fifty-two dollar per house tax increase has to be opposed.  Not because we don’t like books. Not because we don’t like knowledge. But simply because we can’t afford any more taxes.

Taxes are burying the state of Illinois (and other states as well).  We must say No, a resounding No, a loud and unapologetic No, to every tax hike proposal, both in referenda and in the legislatures, until we can get our governments back to a manageable level.

Every new hike, at this point, must be opposed, for the good of our economic health, for the good of our communities, for the good of our children.

We have been bankrupting our children’s future for far too long.  This is the last straw.

Copyright 2019 John F. Di Leo

John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based Customs Broker and international trade trainer, actor and writer.  His columns are found weekly in Illinois Review.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Winnetka has a $90 million school referendum for schools that hsveca declining enrollment. In addition property values are stagnant and there might be a record number of empty homes and homes for sale.,
    We need to shrink the size, scope, and cost of government with less taxes and less spending and less borrowing to save Illinois..
    Why do votes not get this?

  2. Why do high schools need swimming pools?
    To train kids for a forty-year career as LIFEGUARDS?
    Why must every public high school have a football field, with the costs of team uniforms, grounds maintenance, lighting for night games, coach’s salaries, insurance, and God only knows what else?
    How many student players go to “the pros” to make a living? What’s their percentage of the total student enrollment over a ten-year period?
    I have heard parents say “My kid needs a football scholarship to get into college.”
    My opinion: If your kid is so stupid that this is the ONLY way he can get into college, maybe he doesn’t belong there.
    You wonder where your school tax money goes? Above are just two examples.

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