Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

David Kimball


Todd Swanstrom


Terry Jones

Andrew Theising


Property taxation in the United States is a critical issue warranting examination because it involves the directed distribution of government costs and benefits for citizens. The central question exists: Why are Illinois’ property taxes so high? Path dependence was explored as a theory to explain Illinois’ property tax reliance issues, asserting that as local governmental units in the State face budget limitations, they find alternative revenue streams. For example, restricted powers could lead to the development of quasi-governments, which are known as special-purpose districts. In such cases, once general-purpose municipalities charter a course by creating special-purpose districts, it is difficult to adjust their course. This could and often does lead to additional layers of government, sometimes redundancy in service delivery, and higher property tax bills. Tax caps as a legislative tool, financially restricting governmental units, serve as a way powers might be restricted. Such constraining mechanisms can motivate general-purpose governments to investigate alternative revenue sources. The result can give rise to path dependence. It is hypothesized that tax caps initially might hold property taxes at or below inflationary rates in high-growth counties. But as local governmental units face increased pressure due to budgetary constrictions, they will identify ways to evade those constraints. To empirically test these hypotheses, taxing bodies’ increased reliance on property tax dollars in Illinois was explored, paying particular attention to Downstate Illinois counties below Interstate 80, as well as a high-level comprehensive statewide examination. First, a 10-county pilot study was conducted. Then a statewide examination followed. Whether governmental units rely upon the creation of special-purpose districts, which included school districts, to sidestep budgetary limitations was explored empirically. Also empirically explored was whether the counties’ level of economic growth – high versus low – had an interactive effect with counties’ use of special district taxes to sidestep the tax caps.