Tell Springfield to honor their sworn oath

Opinion: Columns

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By Jim Gates

One View

Oak, powered by Wednesday Journal, has reported that a Nov. 6 advisory referendum will ask Oak Parkers if the village should further study consolidating village government with three other taxing bodies — Oak Park Township, the Park District of Oak Park and the Oak Park Public Library. The advisory referendum rationale is to determine if consolidation could result in efficiencies and economies of scale and the elimination of redundancies that would lead to property tax reduction for the residents of Oak Park.

While I absolutely support intergovernmental conversation, collaboration, and actions designed to improve the quality of life in Oak Park and to provide the best and most cost-effective village services, this referendum does not address the key issue related to long-term property tax relief in Oak Park and across the state. That is the continuous failure of the Illinois General Assembly to honor its commitment stated in the Article X, Section 1, of the Illinois Constitution: "The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education."

I am certain that our local legislators will strenuously object to my use and application of that quote. They will parse the meaning of the word "primary" and tell you it does not mean "majority." However, even a cursory review of dictionary definitions of "primary" will reveal that, as it is used in the Illinois Constitution, the word is not synonymous with "majority." So that is an exercise in dissembling and political spin, in direct opposition to the intentions of those who wrote that language during the 1970 Illinois Constitutional Convention to ensure that state government is constitutionally mandated to and always reminded that "The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education." As Chicago Sun Times journalist Phil Kadner wrote, "That's clear language. The goal is to educate every child in this state to their fullest potential, and it is the state's primary responsibility to fund that system of education." (1)

A Chicago Tribune article on March 26, 2015 offered, "The state, by constitutional mandate, has the primary responsibility for funding its public schools but has never come close to covering even 50 percent of the cost. In recent years, the state's contribution has dipped below 30 percent, forcing local school districts to raise their property tax levy or cut programs." (2)

Data from National Center for Education studies revealed that, in school year 2014-15, Illinois ranked dead last in the percentage of public school revenue coming from state sources at 25%, while the national state average is 46.8%. (3) An Oak Park resident's local property tax bill would almost be cut in half if the Illinois General Assembly were as truly committed to funding public education with state revenues like Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan — all well over 50%.

The Illinois General Assembly and the governor talk about property tax freezes, schemes to redistribute property taxes from a community like Oak Park to other communities, and their undying love and support for public education. They will talk about data like statewide, per-pupil spending to avoid what most needs to be talked about: Why they choose not to honor Constitutional mandate for the state government to be the primary funding source for public education.

While I strongly support discussions between taxing bodies to identify efficiencies and redundancies, I do fear a rush to judgment and action by village leadership to combine taxing bodies without the requisite time, study, due diligence, and, all-important, the village-wide resident input such a momentous action requires. Before the village even considers undoing structures that have provided Oak Park decades of high-quality youth and senior services, and nationally recognized and award-winning park district and library services, village leadership should look 198 miles south to all branches of state government.

As Oak Park is often in the vanguard of change, I suggest it once again assume that mantle of leadership and launch a statewide campaign with a stark and strong message to our local legislators and legislators across the state: honor your mandate in the Illinois Constitution and use the taxpayers' hard-earned tax dollars to take primary responsibility for funding public education in Illinois. I have never created a hash tag, but I am certain my talented fellow Oak Parkers could create an effective one that admonishes the G.A. and compels them to commit 51%+ to state level public education funding.

When the inevitable local and state level pushback and language parsing legislators' responses to this One View are presented, I encourage you to take out your local property tax bill and look at the percentages supporting our public-school systems in Oak Park, districts 97 and 200. Now imagine (or calculate) your total property taxes if those two taxing body percentages were reduced by at least 1/3 to 1/2. However, that will only happen when Springfield legislators are given no choice but to honor Article X, Section 1 and the oath they swore to uphold.

Jim Gates, an Oak Park resident, is a retired District 97 instructor and a former D97 school board president.

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Reader Comments

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Tom MacMillan  

Posted: August 10th, 2018 1:55 PM

James, I have been in town long enough to have seen how D97 works. I was in meetings years ago where they were openly joking about the "next referendum" while working on the current one. You guys made a mess and now want people to think it is someone else's fault. Don't expect everyone to fawn over the damage you did and act like it was a service to us. No thanks for the bad service.

James Gates  

Posted: August 10th, 2018 12:30 PM

To posters who: don't know the actual history of referenda by Oak Park taxing units, misrepresent salary data, defend the decades-long incompetence of Springfield, confuse the term 'people' with the term 'state', I leave you with a quote from Annie Hall, when Wood Allen, as the character Alvy Singer, says to Duane, a very confused person, "Well, I have to - I have to go now, Duane, because I, I'm due back on the planet Earth."

James Gates  

Posted: August 10th, 2018 12:14 PM

TM: Your posts reveal so much about you such as your aversion to facts, your reliance on bile as opposed to logic, and your general unhappiness. Your defense of the indefensible failings of Springfield based on the fact they are "far away" is embarrassing. Please do your homework on Illinois state revenue and finance. Finally, your failed attempt to bully me is laughable. I stand by my posts. If you want to make an actual difference run for public office as your posts aren't cutting it. Have a nice day.

Neal Buer  

Posted: August 9th, 2018 3:10 PM

Looking elsewhere doesn't help. Why don't we start by looking at the school salaries that are 50% higher than the average worker, and a pension that is 4 times higher than normal.

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: August 9th, 2018 2:32 PM

The Illinois Supreme Court has decided that the constitutional provision cited in the essay is only a GOAL, like it or not.In fact, the word "goal' is contained in the Constitution section concerning education. The State does not have the finances to provide for the majority of educational expenses. Get real.In any case, the State is simply us anyway

Tom MacMillan  

Posted: August 9th, 2018 9:33 AM

Yeah, "as we all know", its Springfield that is to blame. Not the D97 referendum machine that never ever missed a chance to systematically crank up our property taxes. Blaming someone far away, not the one with their hands deep in your pockets from D97 is lame. Oh, and thanks so much for the non-compensated work on all those referendums, they were awesome.Tell us again about how we are going to lose "the arts" just one more time, that never gets old.

James Gates from Oak Park  

Posted: August 8th, 2018 12:20 PM

Yes, as we all know, Springfield has no money of its own. Every mismanaged penny comes from taxpayers. So, no new insight there. Next, nowhere in my One View did I even hint at raising any tax: property, income, sales, etc. as there is already ample money in Springfield from current tax revenues for them to honor their Constitutional duty as outlined in Article 10 and honor other fiscal commitments they swore to honor. However, when the Illinois is routinely ranked near the top of the most fiscally mismanaged, incompetent state governments, no amount of money extracted from the pockets of Illinois taxpayers will be enough to operate Illinois in a fiscally responsible manner. In a 2017 study conducted by the Mercatus Center, a libertarian think tank at George Mason University, New Jersey and Illinois were unsurprisingly ranked as #s 1 and 2 in the category of the most fiscally mismanaged states. The study also states that Illinois and New Jersey have been in the bottom five in recent years and are consistently doing poorly. Source: Also, when a poster indicates Illinois per capita per pupil spending, the poster is correct, but if that ranking is due to largesse of Springfield and its use of already collected tax dollars to fund public education, why is Illinois routinely near the top of most local property tax dependent states to fund public education? When Illinois taxpayers choose to be distracted by the shiny dangled objects presented as "facts" by Springfield, the message they send Springfield is: "Good Job! Keep up the good work!" The solution to the debacle in Illinois is not to argue with one another or criticize those who perform, non-compensated, elected public service for 5 of the 6 local governmental units in Oak Park, but to hold Springfield accountable. The best way to get their attention: don't vote for them, and, if necessary, leave that ballot spot blank.

Tom MacMillan  

Posted: August 7th, 2018 6:15 PM

I like how people talk about getting money from the state like it is free cash from someone else. That is just some heartless bureaucrat reaching into our front pocket for more money, after he already drained our wallet from the back pocket. This coming from a D97 referendum pusher is classic. We will get crushed when JB jacks up income taxes as our property taxes also continue to grow.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: August 7th, 2018 5:00 PM

While the state is indeed ranked dead last in state support of public schools, IL residents - accounting for all tax sources - spend the 13th most per pupil on education in the country. That's $2,000-4,000 more than our Midwestern neighbors mentioned here. We also spend more than blue states like Minnesota and the entire Pacific Coast. On the flip side, three of the dozen states that spend more than us on education have no state income tax. The money's there because the money's always been there. The questions to ask is what makes us different and why is different have to mean "more"?

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: August 7th, 2018 4:08 PM

Let's be real, it would require an extra $55 million total PER YEAR from the state for both D97 and D200 to reach that desired 51% state funding level. Heck, for just our schools to reach the current 25% state funding average would require doubling the existing state contribution. The problem is Oak Parkers send a lot of tax dollars to Springfield and receive very little in return. Until that is remedied, nothing will change. But for those of you convinced your total property taxes would decrease substantially if this plan came to fruition (and it won't), also imagine an extremely high income tax rate on all income, including that political 3rd rail, RETIREMENT income. Are you willing to pay $8,000 more in state income taxes to reduce your property tax bill $4,000? I hope not.

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