State Representative Tom Weber (R-Lake Villa) has filed two pieces of legislation in the Illinois House of Representatives to improve the transparency and participation of school district referendums. House Bill 3367 will move referendum votes to general elections and House Bill 3368 will ensure residents are provided with the true cost, or savings, created through a referendum.
“For all of us, the largest portion of our property tax bill goes to our local school districts,” said Weber. “I think we can all agree how important it is to have well-funded schools that prepare our students for the future. However, we also have a responsibility to ensure the residents who are paying the property taxes that fund our schools are given every opportunity to understand the costs of a referendum and to participate in its approval or not.”
House Bill 3367 seeks to improve local residents’ participation in the referendum process by moving school district referendum ballot questions from consolidated elections to general elections. Consolidated elections typically receive much less media attention and often feature uncontested races for local office, these circumstances dramatically decrease voter participation. For instance, the 2017 consolidated elections in Lake County had only 16 percent turnout, compared to turnout of 71 percent in 2016 and almost 57 percent in 2018 for the general elections.
House Bill 3368 seeks to improve referendum transparency and residents’ access to information by requiring that 30 days prior to the election, the school district must send each person of voting age information that clearly explains the costs of passing the referendum. While some regulations already exist concerning what information must be presented to residents, the loose nature of the regulations has led to some deceptive tactics being employed. Many school districts use taxpayer funds to hire consulting firms or form special PACs to target voters and market their referenda.
“Unfortunately, some of the marketing efforts used to promote these referendums deceptively claim to lower property taxes, but voters are not always being informed that any reduction in taxes is the result of bonds from a past referendum maturing and not the new referendum,” said Weber. “Taxpayers deserve to be fully informed about the actual source of any savings, as well as improved opportunity to participate in the outcome of the referendum. These two pieces of legislation help us accomplish these goals and I hope my colleagues in the General Assembly will agree.”
Both pieces of legislation have recently been assigned to the House Revenue and Finance Committee for consideration.