Senate to Consider Property Tax Freeze, Financial Relief for Chicago Schools

The State Senate may vote as soon as next week on a proposal to freeze property taxes for two years across Illinois. The measure would also free up about a billion dollars for Chicago's Public Schools over that time, averting another round of ruinous layoffs.

Property taxes would be frozen in 2016-2017, except in Cook County where the freeze would apply in 2017-2018. Officials at CPS told FOX 32 News the city is considering a $225 million property tax increase in Chicago as one piece of a longterm solution to the system's woes.

The Senate proposal is the latest attempt to break a stalemate in the State Capitol pushing Illinois and Chicago to the tipping point.

State Senate President John Cullerton has confirmed what the C.E.O. of Chicago's Public Schools told FOX 32 that the General Assembly may try again next week.

“Sen. Cullerton has been working for some time -- the Senate President -- on a compromise, which he hopes will garner enough support across the aisle,” said CPS CEO Forrest Claypool.

Cullerton's spokeswoman called it the Democrat's latest counter-proposal to Gov. Bruce Rauner.

It includes a version of the Republican's freeze on property taxes, which in Illinois are the second-highest in America. CPS C.E.O. Forrest Claypool said that, if the Chicago Teachers Union agrees to have its members contribute substantially more to their pension fund, city officials would consider a $225 million property tax increase.

And the State of Illinois would pay about $200 million a year to Chicago teacher pensions.

“The reason the mayor has made this proposal is, as I said before, if everyone gives a little, then no one has to give too much. And that's why he's asked for a small contribution from Chicago property taxpayers IF the teachers union are part of the solution. And if the State of Illinois is part of the solution,” said Claypool.

Claypool said the alternative involves laying off hundreds of teachers and other school workers, which is a move he said would increase class size enormously. That threatens to reverse the progress CPS has made in recent years with more students graduating high school and many more than before going on to graduate from 4-year colleges.

The Senate proposal would reduce by $300 million a year for two years the required CPS payment to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. That means the system would not be 90% funded until 2063, four years later than its current goal 2059.

Potentially the biggest impact of the Senate bill: it would abolish Illinois's current system of public school funding as of June 1, 2017. A special committee of 12 state legislators would have to come up with a new system of funding by Dec. 31 2016.