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Tax spike in store if cap expires
Watchdog group suggests extending Cook County break

Monday, November 27, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Chicago homeowners would see their property-tax bills increase significantly next year if the so-called 7 percent tax cap is not renewed, according to a study to be released Monday by the Civic Federation.

Homeowners in the city can already expect their bills to go up by more than 10 percent in 2007 after this year's reassessment. But if the law is allowed to expire, as it is scheduled to do, those same tax bills would climb by more than 36 percent, the study found.
The Civic Federation, a non-partisan budget watchdog, supports renewing the 7 percent law for another three years to protect homeowners at tax collection time from the rapid escalation of residential real estate values of recent years.

The organization, however, does not endorse a version of the law that would sweeten benefits to homeowners.

The current law isn't really a tax cap but works by expanding a homeowner's exemption to a maximum of $20,000. A bill that would increase that limit to $60,000 is pending in Springfield.

It is not known whether it or an amended draft will get called for a vote during this week's veto session. Legislation could get passed in the spring and still be effective for next year's tax bills.

The General Assembly passed the 7 percent cap in 2004 with a provision that it would expire after a three-year cycle.

Real estate in Cook County is reassessed every three years. The impact is reflected on the next year's tax bill.

Cook County Assessor James Houlihan proposed the law after Chicago's 2003 reassessment and is pushing, with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, for its renewal.

Business groups oppose the law because it shifts tax burden away from homeowners and on to all other non-homestead-exemption eligible properties, notably commercial, industrial and apartment buildings.

The law also causes some seniors enrolled in special programs and owners of houses that are not increasing in value to pay slightly more in taxes than they would have without the cap in place.

The Civic Federation report confirmed that owners of non-homestead eligible properties next year would pay higher taxes with the cap in place than without it.

But the study found that commercial, industrial and apartment properties in Chicago are already expected to see their taxes go down in 2007, with or without the cap in place. Taxes on those properties would drop even further if the law were allowed to expire and more of the burden were shifted back to homeowners.

"Although it is not a replacement for comprehensive reform of the property tax system, the `7% cap' has contributed residential stability to the Cook County property tax system by both limiting and smoothing annual increases in the taxable value of homestead properties," the report says. "The Civic Federation believes that the benefits of the [law] outweigh its costs in terms of tax burden shifted to non-homestead properties and homestead properties that are appreciating slowly."

With the housing market cooling, the cap may no longer be necessary in another three years, the report found. The report will be available Monday morning on the Civic Federation's Web site at www.civicfed.org.



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