Tax saturation is real

Opinion: Editorials

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Our Views

As we look ahead to a new year in Oak Park and River Forest, the storylines seem certain to converge around issues of taxing and affordability in our villages.

Start with the abomination of the Trump tax bill and its impact on the deductibility of your local property tax payments in our high-tax communities. With that deduction capped at $10,000, it leaves a very large percentage of local homeowners losing a portion of a singular middle-class tax benefit. It will make those semi-annual payments which total up to $13,000 or $17,000 or $20,000 or more even more painful.

As 2017 closed, both Oak Park's public elementary school and high school boards grappled with passing new property tax levies.

In a single week, both boards met and saw friction in an annual governance exercise that has typically been routine. District 97 got lectured last week at its meeting by Dan Moroney, the recently elected village trustee. He raised questions related to flaws in last spring's readily approved D97 tax referendum and how those issues, while acknowledged at the time by the district, could have residual impact on taxes collected by the elementary schools.

(Agree or disagree with Moroney's point, we'd note his very unusual and, to us, problematic, decision to upbraid another taxing body in a public setting. We're not sticklers for protocol, but what goes around does come around. Moroney should focus on village affairs and work to build back channels to give feedback to other boards.)

The high school board, Thursday night, had second thoughts on its own planned levy hike. With tens of millions currently stuffed in its vault, there was movement on the board to adopt a levy with zero increase as a nod to the rising tax burdens on taxpayers. The board eventually voted on a levy less than 1 percent.  

Good instinct.

Oak Park's village board, which will argue — correctly — that its tug on property taxes pales next to the local schools, is nonetheless back in the habit of hiking its property tax levy after long years when it worked to actively minimize property tax hikes. That said, the village regularly raises a raft of fees from garbage collection to cable franchise to parking permits, which gives it cash from taxpayers through means other than the property tax.

At village hall, the rising demand for cash is driven by the underfunded pension crisis that plagues municipalities across the state. Eventually, it will menace school districts as the state offloads teacher pension obligations. Pensions, as long predicted, are coming to consume the spending of local government. Taxes will rise and services will be stunted. This is an albatross.

Everything is not preordained, however. Voters could put the kibosh on the grand plans chatter for the two local park districts to build a $40 million-plus community recreation center. Especially if such a center were to be proposed on a piece of land that currently pays property taxes or could be developed to pay greater property taxes.

Oak Park and River Forest need to continue active development of commercial and residential projects. Whether these are high-rises in downtown Oak Park, mixed-use at Lake and Lathrop, remaking Madison Street and North Avenue to replace long obsolete small office buildings, or luring a new Target store, we say, yes, to all of the above. We can't fall for the nonsensical debate suggesting development is unnecessary because it will never lower taxes. Development is no tax panacea, but it is a hedge against perpetually rising taxes.

Finally, we'd note as 2018 arrives that both school districts are at the start of long-term teacher contract negotiations. Faculty costs are by far the greatest driver of costs — as well as education! — in our schools. We're not looking for givebacks. We're not looking for a wage freeze. We are looking for contracts that are realistic for this moment in terms of both wages and benefits. Modest raises. Rip up "steps and lanes" cash giveaways. Get creative in sharing costs on health.

Tax saturation is here. Our diversity is at stake.

Reader Comments

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 8th, 2018 5:51 PM

(Continued) But I agree, Dale, there has in our lifetime been an unprecedented and dangerous erosion of separation of powers. In my opinion, Congress needs to get some cajones and do the job the Constitution mandate it do. Congress has deferred too much of its power to the executive and the administrative state. "Legislation" by executive power and "rule making administrative unaccountable (to the people) bureaucrats" is the real Constitutional crisis in my opinion. And I also agree with Tom and Ramona. Mr. Haley and company think they speak for all Oak Park. Hardly anyone listens to his (their) editorials anyway. The guy lives in Berwyn for God's sake!

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 8th, 2018 5:47 PM

I agree with you Dale. The problem is that Presidents have used their executive power - as the Constitution says "the executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America" - to essentially write laws via executive orders and executive memoranda (both of which have the force of law). This "executive legislation" in my opinion far exceeds anything the founders had in mind. But remember Mr. Obama's quote: "I've got a pen and I've got a phone." His abuse of executive power (see the history of "Obamacare" for instance and the federal appeals court's reaction to his immigration policies) is well documented. Mr. Trump is merely following in his predecessor's footsteps, because he got a pen and a phone too (or in his case a twitter account). Both the ACA (commonly known as Obamacare) and the present tax bill (now associated with the present President's name) were passed ?" as you point out by the Congress, as required by the Constitution. The issue I suspect was the legislation in both instances was influenced and strongly reflected the beliefs and values of the occupant of the White House. No surprise there. Both were fulfilling campaign promises. And both won. And both had majorities in both houses. That is "political reality." As Mr. Obama said: "there are consequences to winning an election." And yes it is ironic that Mr. Obama's abuse of executive power was "A ?" OK" with the WJ and its staff, but somehow Mr. Trump's similar abuse is now an existential crisis (hey WJ, see Mr. Obama's quote above about winning elections).

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 6th, 2018 12:50 PM

Modest raises? Why? Many of us who work in the "real" world haven't had had a raise in years. And many have had decreases!!! Oh, I forgot, Mr. Haley lives in Berwyn. Never mind.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 5th, 2018 5:31 PM

This paper should stop dreaming that they are talking for everybody, they do not. Not even close. Know your audience guys.

Dale Jones from River Forest  

Posted: December 29th, 2017 4:43 PM

I would like to take this opportunity to correct a misunderstanding that the editorial staff of the WJ has perpetrated on their readers. The above editorial refers to something they call the Trump tax bill. Those of us who have taken the time to study the Constitution of the United States know that the President is the leader of the executive branch (see Article II). He is responsible to see that the laws are faithfully executed, not to make the laws, although he does have the power to veto laws with which he has issues and the Congress has the power to override the veto. He has other responsibilities and I refer readers and the WJ editorial staff to the Constitution for a complete enumeration. It is the Congress of the United States that is responsible for making laws (See Article I) and it was indeed the Congress that wrote and passed the new tax law. The founders in their wisdom built a separation of powers onto the Constitution. We have been seeing this separation of powers eroding over the last century and it is time to reverse this dangerous trend and restore the Constitution.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: December 29th, 2017 9:25 AM

I'm curious why the author of this article is not noted. Instead, it simply states "our views". Wonder who "our" is. I would venture to guess the entire staff of the WJ, who most do NOT live in Oak Park.

Craig Williams from Oak Park  

Posted: December 28th, 2017 4:09 PM

"We'd note his very unusual and, to us, problematic, decision to upbraid another taxing body in a public setting" Guess we should just play dumb and ignore all those times during Village Board Meetings when Anan has upbraided the Park District and possibly other taxing bodies. You clearly don't have a problem with that!!!

Kitty Conklin from Oak Park  

Posted: December 27th, 2017 2:48 PM

Dan, thanks to you, Dan and Simone for speaking up! As a 13+ yr resident of Oak Park, it is a pleasure to see the lack of transparency that has surrounded taxing issues come to an end. Yes, you and Greg raised questions in the last D97 Board meeting. So did I, so did Steve Yamashita. ALL BOARDS in this village are, hopefully, preparing for a new approach by citizens, one in which questions will be directed to them as well. Thank you for what you are doing!

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: December 27th, 2017 1:54 PM

The rest of Dan Moroney's remarks to the D97 Board: "Mistakes happen and I believe the best way to deal with them is directly and comprehensively. In this case, I do not feel it needs to be complicated. The $2.6MM that was over collected and which appears as debt abatement on page 7 of the levy presentation simply needs to be deducted from the $71MM proposed operating levy. This simple move is straight forward and would put your future operating levy at the level that voters approved last April. Without this move, an operating levy will be captured that includes the $2.6MM over collection. This problem compounds itself and by my math the extra operational levy collected over a ten year span with 3% annual inflation is nearly $30MM more than what voters were told it would be before voting on the operating levy referendum. Granted, this would be offset by the debt levy maneuvers that are being proposed to offset the over collections for tax years 2016 and 2017. However, these adjustments are only guaranteed for this year, whereas capturing the higher operational levy would be permanent. True, the extra collection can be rebated via the debt levy on an annual basis, however, at a certain point there will be new board members at your table that will not prioritize refunding tax payers for the over collection issue that occurred in 2017. The way I see it, you have an opportunity to draw a line in the sand and send a clear message to Oak Parkers that says while we made a mistake, we corrected it and did not levy for dollars that we could have. I believe the proposed levy sends the opposite message. That is something that I do not think would benefit District 97 or the taxpayers of Oak Park. Times are hard for Oak Park taxpayers and the Federal tax plan will make things harder. I hope your board chooses not to add to these difficulties by locking in a permanent operating levy increase that is over $2.5MM higher than what voters approved last April."

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: December 27th, 2017 1:51 PM

In fairnes, here is what Dan Moroney said to the D97 Board: "First I would like to thank you all for your service to the Village of Oak Park. I know that it is a time consuming and oftentimes a thankless job and your commitment is to be applauded. I have no doubt that you have the best interests of Oak Park in mind, as you make all of your decisions. I come tonight to talk about the Levy that you will be approving. My apologies that I am late to this conversation. In my role as Village Trustee, I have been thoroughly consumed with passing our own budget and other Village related issues. After reading the D97 levy notice in last week's Wednesday Journal, my curiosity got the best of me and the more I learned, the less I understood the mechanisms of the proposed levy?.this cued the email exchanges to a few of you individually and yesterday's message to the entire board. I will admit that I am approaching this topic as a constituent and elected official that is extremely concerned about the economic sustainability of Oak Park due to the rising tax burden that our community has experienced. Since 2000, the collective levy amongst Oak Park's six taxing bodies has gone up 140%. I firmly believe that some of Oak Park's most cherished values such as affordable housing, economic and generational diversity, small business and our commitment to initiatives that reflect our values are at risk if our taxing bodies do not intentionally work towards lowering the rate of taxation that we have experienced. This is why I ask you to set your operating levy to the level that was approved by voters in the April 2017 referendum. As we all know, the referendum question asked for an operating levy increase to $66.4MM. Due to a math error, $69MM was actually collected." (To be continued)

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: December 27th, 2017 1:05 PM

Dan Moroney's presentation to the D97 Board was thoughtful and well measured. The Wednesday Journal should have published his remarks, instead of critisizing the fact that he spoke. Thank God for public officials like Dan. We need more officials who are stewards of the public money intrusted to them. Also, a big laugh about the high school. Just because they didn't steal the maximum, like D97 did, doesn't make them heros. They don't need to take the maximum, because they can spend the money they stole in previous years, that weren't needed to run the schools. Cudos to them? I think not.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: December 27th, 2017 9:00 AM

(Agree or disagree with Moroney's point, we'd note his very unusual and, to us, problematic, decision to upbraid another taxing body in a public setting. We're not sticklers for protocol, but what goes around does come around. Moroney should focus on village affairs and work to build back channels to give feedback to other boards.) So the WJ finds it problematic that a resident who happens to be a trustee challenges another taxing body? I find it problematic that the WJ sees this as a problem. Taxpayers in Oak Park need advocates. Obviously, the WJ is clearly on the side of tax and spend with little to no accountability. Maybe that's why he moved to Berwyn.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: December 27th, 2017 4:41 AM

Better get used to people complaining about D97's tax grab and every other propsed increase. Diversity of opinion is something WJ has always had trouble understanding. There are lots of people who do not agree with anything that drives up taxes any more. It is time to cut, not dream up new ideas about taking more.

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: December 26th, 2017 10:46 PM

"... we'd note his very unusual and, to us, problematic, decision to upbraid another taxing body in a public setting. We're not sticklers for protocol, but what goes around does come around. Moroney should focus on village affairs and work to build back channels to give feedback to other boards."// While I understand the value and wisdom of giving criticism "behind the scenes," what does one do when such criticism is ignored, over, over, and over again? And how far does this "publicly speak no criticism" policy extend? As a spouse of an elected official, would I be taken to task by WJ if I spoke publicly against a taxing body? How about a best friend of an elected official? Are they allowed to speak out? A business partner? How big do you draw this criticism "no fly zone"? Our elected officials are also residents in this town. And Dan Moroney in particular, is a lifelong resident, was a student of D97, is now a parent of D97 students, is a home owner, and an owner of multiple properties. Being an elected official complicates things, but it doesn't negate all their other roles. Nor should they be muzzled when they see something worth speaking out about. Is "what goes around comes around" supposed to be a threat to silence him, and all residents and business owners who dare to upset the apple cart in our fair town? From my perspective, elected officials who desire real, positive, long-term change are those who would gladly welcome being held accountable. Accountability: now that's something I hope goes around and comes around.

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