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Senate Democrats propose comprehensive property tax, pension and school funding reform

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SPRINGFIELD - Seeking to find common ground, Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton and Senate Democrats are advancing a two-year property tax freeze as part of a plan designed to provide relief for homeowners while forcing needed improvements to state school funding.

“For too long the problems of soaring property taxes and inequitable school funding have gone ignored at the Capitol. This proposal forces action and lets people know that we’re serious about our priorities and resolving the problems our state faces,” Cullerton said.

Senators Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge), Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) spoke at a news conference Wednesday to outline the reforms contained in Senate Bill 316.

Property Taxes

“People in my district want meaningful property tax relief. This proposal guarantees families and seniors who have worked hard and played by the rules have the opportunity to stay in their homes, while continuing to fund quality education for their children and grandchildren,” Kotowski said.

The proposal freezes local property taxes for two years beginning with the 2016 levy years in the suburbs and downstate. The two-year freeze begins in 2017 for Cook County. Voters would have to approve any increases during those two years.

School Funding

During the two years the property tax freeze is in place, the state would study how best to develop a new system for school funding. To ensure action, at the end of those two years, the existing, outdated General State Aid formula would be abolished.

“Years of overreliance on property taxes and deliberate divestment from our schools have created the least equitable school system in the nation. Pensions, property taxes and unfair school funding need to be addressed together. If this is what it takes to create the fair, needs-based school funding that Illinois students desperately need, then let’s do it,” Manar said.

Chicago Public Schools

Finally, the reform package frees up additional resources for Chicago Public Schools by treating Chicago teacher pensions the same as all other teacher pensions in the state. The savings could ensure the cash-strapped Chicago schools are able to remain open for the duration of the upcoming school year while hopefully avoiding layoffs.

“Keeping teachers in the classroom must be one of our top priorities because they hold the key to our children’s futures in their hands,” said Senator Lightford. “This legislation relieves budget pressure on Chicago Public Schools and the city of Chicago, helping ensure our schools open on time, stay open and that our educators aren’t laid off.”