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Extend property tax cap, group urges

Monday, November 27, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by DAVID ROEDER Business Reporter

A leading civic group is calling on the state Legislature to extend a 7 percent cap on property assessment increases in Cook County, arguing that it provides a tax "shock absorber" for homeowners while causing minimal harm for businesses.
The Civic Federation, which monitors spending of local governments, said in a report to be released today that the cap should be extended for three years. The group also warned that without it, Chicago homeowners would face a median 36 percent tax increase next fall. It said the median increase should be less than 11 percent if the cap is renewed.
The federation addressed criticism the cap has received from business groups that charge it shifts too much of the tax load from homeowners to owners of commercial and industrial property. The cap carries a maximum exemption of $20,000 on a home's tax value.
The group said most owners of business property should see tax bills decline next year, even if the cap is in place. That's because the value of commercial and industrial property is rising at a slower pace than that of homes, the federation said.
Its position puts it at odds with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. The federation's leadership is drawn from the upper ranks of business and civic affairs in Chicago, and there is overlap with the chamber.
"Our position is a reflection of our independent analysis," said federation President Laurence Msall. "We take a broad approach toward issues of tax policy and their effect on the entire community."
The group hopes its findings will influence the General Assembly, which could take up the the tax cap during the three-day veto session that concludes Thursday. Lawmakers also could take action next year in time to head off huge increases on bills due in the last half of 2007.
The federation cautioned that a 7 percent cap is no substitute for broader tax reforms. It also opposed one bill that would raise the maximum exemption to $60,000 of taxable value on a home. "That's too much of a shift to other property classes," Msall said. The report recommends holding the maximum exemption at $20,000.
It also found that a recent assessment break for apartment buildings larger than six units "has created its own tax burden shift onto other classes of property."
The federation said that without a tax cap, bills for homeowners in the north and northwest suburbs will rise a median 24 percent in 2008, while the median increase in the south and southwest suburbs will be 11 percent by 2009. The years the hikes would hit are different because Cook County is divided into regions reassessed at three-year cycles.


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