Illinois Republicans claim SAFE-T Act will cause property tax hikes

Published: Oct. 5, 2022 at 5:59 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Illinois House Republicans warned Wednesday that the SAFE-T Act could lead to property tax hikes in communities across the state. The representatives said they strongly oppose unfunded mandates on law enforcement and local governments. Republicans also noted that Illinois already has the second-highest property taxes in the nation.

Several counties in the Chicago suburbs are considering whether property taxes should be raised in order to pay for mandates included in the SAFE-T Act. The Kane County Board is discussing the possibility of hiking property taxes for the first time in a decade to fill a $3 million hole in the local budget.

“The Democratic majority SAFE-T Act is literally forcing our local governments to consider raising property taxes to make our communities less safe,” said Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego).

Wheeler explained that many municipalities rely on cash bail to support circuit clerks and other aspects of the judicial system. However, the Coalition to End Money Bond said Wednesday that forcibly extracting revenue through a cash bail system targeting low-income people and families living in poverty is not a financially responsible, sustainable, or ethical way to fund government operations.

Republicans said the transition will create more burdens for taxpayers and local government leaders.

“In many cases, probation departments will need additional pretrial staff to supervise the increase in those released from jail,” said Rep. Chris Bos (R-Lake Zurich). “There will also be enormous IT needs for monitoring, reporting, and of course the new equipment.”

Bos said these are things lawmakers should have debated during committee hearings on the SAFE-T Act instead of “quickly passing” the massive criminal justice reform in the overnight hours on Jan. 13, 2021. Although, the Coalition to End Money Bond said the SAFE-T Act does not require counties to raise property taxes to fund the criminal legal system after eliminating cash bail.

“For the last two years, the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts has been working with stakeholders from every branch of government to ensure that counties across Illinois have the guidance and resources they need to effectively make this transition,” the coalition wrote.

Still, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) claims Gov. JB Pritzker has no clue what he signed into law.

“It’s part of his narrative to run for president, but the fact is there’s some people who understand what’s in the bill,” Durkin said. “No cash bail is no cash bail. There’s going to be so many bad actors that are not going to be subject to bond hearings or detention hearings based on the law that he has created.”

Meanwhile, the Pritzker administration said Wednesday that the governor has and will continue to work with the General Assembly and local governments to ensure that appropriate resources are allocated to support reforms passed in the SAFE-T Act. Spokesman Alex Gough said public safety is best addressed by focusing on risk to the community instead of who can afford to pay their way out of jail. He noted that the SAFE-T Act is essential to a fair and equal Illinois.

“It seems that Republicans are advocating for pretrial defendants to uniquely bear the cost of running our criminal justice system, which is not only unfair but also racist, as found by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights,” Gough said.

Durkin said the SAFE-T Act will create a significant complication and burden upon the 18th Judicial Circuit, probation and court services, Sheriff’s office, and State’s Attorney in DuPage County. He said local leaders recently announced the cost for DuPage County to comply with the law will be $63 million.

“That’s just DuPage County. Think about the other counties,” Durkin said. “Think of all the other municipal law enforcement offices that have to comply with this as well. This is going to be a staggering amount of money at the end of the day when this is all added up.”

Durkin said the Tazewell County Sheriff told him this week that mandated body cameras and video storage mandated in the SAFE-T Act will cost him $2 million over the next four years. Yet, police departments did receive historic funding in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget to help pay for many changes included in the 2021 law. The Pritzker administration said local governments have received more than $1.1 billion annually since the governor took office to help with costs over and above what they previously received from the state.

“This is on top of the 49% increase in revenue sharing to local governments over Governor Pritzker’s first term,” Gough stated. “In addition, the FY23 budget includes, but certainly is not limited to, an additional $30 million in grants to help local governments with the costs of body and vehicle cameras, which have been proven to be a critical element of a reformed criminal justice system.”

Gough also said that the state has provided an additional $26 million for the Illinois Supreme Court’s requested support for the first phase of the three-part effort to establish pretrial services in 63 counties that currently don’t have those services.

The Coalition to End Money Bond said bail extracts wealth from the state’s poorest communities who are forced to choose between paying rent and paying a ransom to free loved ones. They noted that bail is also costly for counties across the state, as pretrial incarceration costs roughly $40,567 per person per year.

“By eliminating cash bail, the Pretrial Fairness provisions of the SAFE-T Act make sure that low-income people are not trapped in a cycle of poverty and jail time in a criminal justice system that violates the basic constitutional and human rights of our community’s most vulnerable people,” the coalition stated. “The SAFE-T Act ensures that decisions about who is released pretrial and who is jailed are based on safety needs and not access to money.”

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