Jim Durkin has the continual feeling of being out of place these days.
“I’m confused. I’m in Chicago and sleeping in my own bed,” the Republican leader of the state House joked before a June 27 gathering of the City Club of Chicago.
Passing a state budget and getting out of Springfield on time can do that to a person.
Durkin, who has been House Republican leader since 2013, said passing the first bipartisan balanced state budget in 15 years was a result of “negotiation and compromise.”
He said it was the second time in a year that Democrats welcomed Republicans to the table to get something done with a pressing deadline looming. The first was the revised education-funding formula passed last summer, with Durkin playing a key role in rewriting the formula.
“Every student in every school district came out as a winner whether it was a Republican or Democratic (legislative) district,” Durkin said, “and that was a great accomplishment. Deadline compromise real results is the way we’re able to get things done.”
He said if Democratic leadership in Illinois gave the Republicans more of a voice and the two parties worked collaboratively, the state’s woes would begin to disappear.
“We could solve almost every problem facing the state, if they worked with us,” the Republican leader from Western Springs said. “We can accomplish bigger things.”
Durkin said despite the accomplishments of a balanced budget and new school-funding formula, state leaders cannot rest on their laurels.
“It’s not time to take a victory lap,” he said. “There is more to do in Illinois.”
One of those things to accomplish, Durkin said, is keeping people in the Land of Lincoln. He noted that last year, Illinois lost 33,000 residents, dropping it to sixth in population for all states, falling behind Pennsylvania.
“That’s horrible. That can’t go on,” Durkin said. “We could lose up to two congressional seats in the next census.”
He said that in 1952 the state had 26 congressional seats. That number of seats could be reduced to 16 by 2022, if people continue to leave the state, Durkin said.
One step to curb the exodus that he is taking is to get state leaders to address the property-tax issues in Illinois. The House Republican leader has introduced legislation that would sunset the Illinois tax code to force the General Assembly to reform the system.
Durkin’s bill creates a July 1, 2019 deadline for the General Assembly to create a new property tax code that is “fair and equitable” throughout the entire state. If the legislation passed and the General Assembly failed to address the tax code by the deadline, the current Illinois property tax code would be immediately removed from state law.
“It is plain and simple, the property tax system in Illinois is a failure, and it is time to start over,” Durkin said. “By setting a firm deadline for the General Assembly, it will force the legislature to come together in a bipartisan manner to find a compromise solution that will remedy this crisis and help bring Illinois back.”
A recent report from Attom Data Solutions shows Illinois with the second-highest property taxes in the nation. Additionally, a Smart Asset report shows the statewide average tax rate is 2.32 percent, almost double the national average.
Durkin noted that the property tax system is so unfair in Cook County that taxpayers pay more if their house is worth less depending on where they live, unfairly targeting minority communities.
“We have seen both parties come together to work on accomplishing two very important issues this last year: a new education-funding reform formula and a balanced budget with no new taxes,” Durkin said. “Now that bipartisanship in Illinois has a chance at working again, we must come together diligently and find a solution to this problem that is bankrupting Illinois taxpayers, crushing home values and stifling job growth throughout the state.”
—- State Sen. Durkin looks to force Illinois tax-code fix —