McCaleb: Illinois' property tax burden needs bipartisan solution

Dan McCaleb
Dan McCaleb

By Dan McCaleb | Illinois News Network

In Illinois, property taxes shouldn't be a blue vs. red issue.

It's more black and white. They're excessively high and unaffordable.

There's no gray to be found anywhere because the evidence is everywhere. Attom Data Solutions just added another piece.

The housing data firm confirmed what homeowners across Illinois already knew with the recent release of its annual report breaking down property tax rates by state and county in all 50 U.S. states.

Illinoisans, on average, pay the second highest effective property tax rate in the country, or 2.22 percent annually. Only New Jersey, at 2.28 percent, ranks higher.

The effective property tax rate is the percentage of a home's market value that the owner pays each year in taxes.

At 2.22 percent, the owner of a home worth $150,000 in Illinois pays an average $3,330 annually, for example. The owner of a $200,000 home pays $4,400, and so on.

Of course, property tax rates vary depending on where you live.

Residents from two counties in Illinois pay among the 10 highest effective property tax rates in the country.

Bureau County in north-central Illinois averages a 3.64 percent effective property tax rate. That's $5,460 every year for a family in a $150,000 home. Winnebago County, along the north-central Illinois border with Wisconsin, averages 3.19 percent. That's good for fourth and eighth highest in the nation, respectively, the Illinois News Network reported earlier this week.

There are ramifications to such high property taxes, of course.

Since 2010, Illinois has lost more than 640,000 residents on net to other U.S. states. Its population has declined four consecutive years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Between July 2016 and July 2017, more than 114,000 people left for other states on net.

“The population loss that Illinois is experiencing is accelerating,” Pete Borsella, demographer at U.S. Census, told INN when the latest Census estimates were released in December. “In the period between 2016 and 2017, they have seen the largest net out-migration of the decade.”

The top reason people are leaving? High taxes, according to polling done in 2016 by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

Where I live, in McHenry County in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, the effective tax rate according to Attom is 2.82 percent, also among the highest in the country.

One of the fastest growing counties in the country 10 years ago, McHenry County has followed the state's trend of declining population over the past decade.

Finally, at least, some elected officials – Republicans and Democrats – are working together to try and lessen that burden.

Led by Democratic Board Chairman Jack Franks, the Republican-dominated McHenry County Board reduced its levy by more than 11 percent last year. They had to make some tough expense decisions, but they were able to get it done.

County government's levy, however, makes up about 10 percent of a homeowner's overall property tax bill. Schools account for the largest portion, and many districts raised their levies again last year.

In March, McHenry County voters sent a message to those units of government that continue to ignore their wishes. By a 74-26 percent margin, voters approved an advisory referendum asking local school districts to reduce their levies by at least 10 percent.

If similar referendums were placed on ballots across the state, I'd expect similar results.

Illinois' crushing property taxes don't discriminate. They are forcing Democrats, Republicans and people of all political persuasions to make difficult decisions about whether they can afford to stay in their homes.

It will take Democrats and Republicans working together, as they are in McHenry County government, to make the challenging expense decisions so struggling homeowners don't have to.

Dan McCaleb is news director of Illinois News Network and the digital hub He welcomes your comments. Contact Dan at

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