December 6, 2018 Print

photo credit: Illinois Policy Institute.

Property taxes, unfunded pensions, corruption, and poverty, the question for residents of Harvey, Ill., isn’t about which one to address, rather which one to address first. The Illinois Policy Institute is putting a human face to this problem through the project: Forgotten Illinois Property Taxes.

Through publications and a video, Illinois Policy Institute tells the story of the town Harvey. After a booming decade in the 1950s, Harvey “gained nearly 6,000 residents and retail sales grew even larger, soaring nearly 90 percent.” In 1966 the town got one of the nation’s first malls, but this was short-lived and by 1979 it closed. This fall from grace was the result of numerous bad policies meeting to form a perfect storm for Harvey and the forgotten people who call it home.

photo credit: Illinois Policy Institute. Harvey, Ill. residents from right: Cheryl Jones, Chuck Givens, and Albert Abney.

“Forgotten Illinois is a storytelling project designed to reach the silent majority of Illinois, including rural, working-class demographics,” says Natalie Bezeck, director of investor relations at Illinois Policy Institute. “We tell stories of working-class Illinoisans in ‘forgotten’ towns across the state, highlighting the economic and policy challenges residents face. In our episode, Forgotten Illinois: Harvey, we told the story of Harvey, Ill.'s rise and fall. Once a thriving town where minority families flocked for an opportunity, it is now in a downward spiral after years of fiscal mismanagement and rising property taxes. As part of a broader statewide campaign to lower property taxes and reform our pension system, we championed the good government and fiscal solutions needed to help Harvey rise once again. It also helped us reach broader and newer audiences than ever before, with all participants in our film describing themselves as progressives or Democrats.”

Property taxes are suffocating a community with an unemployment rate of 20 percent and in which 30 percent live in poverty. It is no wonder more than 4,000 property taxes went unpaid at the start of this year and revenues have fallen. High property taxes led to people opting out of paying them. This, in turn, led to a decline in revenue and a layoff of 40 police and firefighters, which inevitably contributed to increased poverty and unemployment in Harvey. Putting a face to this nuanced and interconnected crisis is exactly what Illinois Policy Institute hopes will lead to change.

Illinois Policy Institute's video on Harvey, Ill.

“As part of a larger, statewide campaign, this project is helping us educate broader audiences about the free market solutions to Illinois' toughest problems,” says Bezeck. “For too long, entrenched politicians and special interests have mismanaged taxpayer dollars and irresponsibly pushed the state into fiscal crisis. With Atlas Network's support, we laid the groundwork to advance important legislative reforms that will put Illinois back on a path to prosperity. We seek to return Illinois to a state rich with opportunity for all. By using storytelling to tie property taxes with Illinois' pension crisis, we're helping Illinoisans understand the reality and impact of the crisis.”

The Illinois Policy Institute received a grant from Atlas Network in support of this project.