After years of subsidizing every private development and commercial infrastructure improvement scheme they could find, even to the point of outsourcing most development negotiation and decisions to the Oak Park Development Corporation to put together fait accompli deals for the village board and the Plan Commission to approve (or else), they are now trying to position themselves as the guardians of property tax efficiency with classic austerity property tax cap and citizen fiscal review board limits to public spending, mostly focused on those “other” taxing bodies. 

 According to documents included in the 2017 Village Budget report (not included in later reports), even with all the new development, from 2005 to 2014 total Equalized Assessed Value (EAV) for Oak Park was flat, with residents picking up a greater share of the levy, as the commercial property share dropped from 15% of EAV to 9%. This may have to do with Cook County Property tax corruption (same shift happened for all of Cook County), standard breaks for vacancy for commercial property, TIFs, or something else, but it is striking data. 

Note that this occurred without even considering the demographic and retail mix of the new development, i.e. the three critical ratios in a state where, by far, the largest share of public school funding is from local property taxes (Illinois is at the bottom, or near bottom of states in its state funding share for public education): EAV/Public School Students, Property Tax Payees Without Public School Students/Total Property Tax Payees, and Total Local Sales and other Tax Receipts/Property Tax Receipts. 

Also note that in Illinois’ system, towns with exclusive zoning, like River Forest, can ramp up their EAV/Property tax payee and student ratios, and towns with extensive retail and or industrial development can also afford a lower property tax rate. For this and other reasons, as is well known, Illinois’ system for funding public education is fundamentally unjust, inequitable, and inadequate. 

But the solution is not property tax caps and fiscal austerity for residents now that the real estate market is slowing down for developers, but more efficient spending and more equitable revenue sources that would tax finance, like a LaSalle Street financial transactions tax; and the wealthy, like progressive income, wealth, and property taxes. Property tax caps in California effectively decimated the public school system for decades, and ALEC-inspired spending limits and citizen financial control boards have had similar destructive effects in Colorado, Kansas, and other states where they have been implemented. 

In the last municipal election, all three candidates who presented themselves as opposing Albion won on the basis of broad popular opposition to the current board majority’s misguided arguments that subsidizing increased development and raising EAV (in the 2005 to 2014 period there was no sign of this) would reduce property taxes. Two of these, trustees Andrews and Moroney, who are cited in the Journal article, effectively slapped their supporters in the face, as they flipped after they were elected and voted for the Albion project. 

We at VOICE are now proceeding to carefully vet our newly endorsed candidates to ensure that they, unlike the two that many of us voted for in the last local election, will actually follow through on their public statements and serve the interests of the residents of Oak Park and not the developer and business interests (who support publicly subsidized growth in residents and especially higher-income residents relative to growth in retail, i.e. maybe one floor of retail) that in recent years have effectively captured our boards of trustees, to the point that they almost succeeded in forcing Oak Park opt out of the Cook County living wage and sick leave ordinance. 

Please vote against the consolidation and property tax propaganda referendum, and for our VOICE-endorsed trustees in the next election. Collaboration yes, consolidation no. Folks who run for village trustee generally do not have the interest or expertise to oversee schools, parks, or senior services. 

Ron Baiman teaches economics in the MBA program of Benedictine University, is a 24-year Oak Park resident, and an active member of VOICE.

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