I want to thank Oak Park Village President Anan Abu-Taleb for proposing that each taxing body cut its annual property tax levy by 10 percent over the next six years. He saved me from writing the almost-obligatory Thanksgiving-themed column.
In making this proposal, he joins Governor-Elect Bruce Rauner and almost every Republican who has run for office in the last 20 years. Mr. Abu-Taleb’s proposal seems a little half-baked to me. I seriously doubt he analyzed the budgets of the parks, library, and districts 97 and 200 before concluding that a one-size-fits-all, across-the-board cut was feasible.
I’m sure the boards of those bodies would much appreciate the data and analysis on which he based his conclusions.
Implicit in the proposal is that the issue of high property taxes has not been a big concern of these governing bodies for a very long time. Each year, each board, with lots of citizen input, agrees upon an annual budget. None of these budgets has a line item called “unneeded expense” or “waste.” All of these taxing authorities have been aware of the issue of high taxes for a long time and have included efficiencies in each of their annual budgets. No doubt some further savings might be possible, but I seriously doubt there is that much fat in these budgets, considering citizen expectations for a safe community, quality schools and investment in infrastructure.
Ah, there’s the rub — citizen expectations. People live here because they feel safe. They want good schools, parks, three libraries and a conservatory. We pay more because we get more. In the six-county area there are lots of communities where you can pay less property taxes for the same size house. In fact people move from Oak Park to such communities for that very reason.
In making his proposal, I hope Mr. Abu-Taleb took into account that these taxing bodies can’t cut the costs of the debt service on the bonds issued to pay for referenda-approved capital improvements like new junior highs, a new library and renovation of every park in town.
Further, the greatest expense for these public bodies is wages and salaries — often more than half of the total budgets. It seems unlikely that this big-budget item could be 10 percent less in 2020. In fact, I would be delighted if this expense only increased 10 percent. I suspect that the cost of water, electricity, heat, salt, books, furniture, vehicles — well, everything — will go up rather than down over the next six years.
There will always be a tension between the high expectations of Oak Park’s citizenry and the desire for lower taxes. I understand that Mr. Abu-Taleb made his proposal before a packed house of business leaders, and it was no doubt well received. I just don’t think it is either a serious proposal, or one that Oak Park taxpayers would really support.
Maybe he should pilot this proposal by cutting the price of the fish tacos and margaritas at Maya del Sol by 10 percent over the next six years. Now that is an idea I could really support. Cheers.
And Happy Thanksgiving.