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Tax cap hits Southland biz hardest

Monday, March 26, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

Businesses in the Southland would be some of the biggest losers under either of the proposals to cap Cook County property taxes that are under debate in Springfield, says a new report.
But the study by the Civic Federation also says that if lawmakers do not cap assessments, the impact on homeowners could be dire, with taxes jumping almost 20 percent when the average south suburban homeowner is reassessed in 2008.
"The positive aspects of the exemption, that it serves as a 'shock absorber' and contributes stability to the property tax system, far outweigh its drawbacks," said federation president Laurence Msall in a press release.
The 7 percent cap limits how much the assessed value of a home can jump when it is reassessed, which happens every three years. The law is expiring, and its renewal is mired in a murky political battle.
Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan backs a proposal that would renew the cap and increase its maximum allowed value to homeowners to $60,000.
Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan wants the "cap on the cap" to stay where it is, $20,000.
Business groups are opposed to both proposals.
The federation, an independent good-government research group, broke down the average impact on different kinds of property owners for each proposal.
Because the cap limits property taxes on homes, it means an increase in taxes for commercial and industrial properties. But Houlihan has argued that those properties otherwise get a huge cut in taxes because homes have been growing in value much more rapidly.
Nowhere is this shift more clear than in the south suburbs, according to the new report.
Without the cap, the average homeowner's taxes are likely to grow by 19.8 percent when property is reassessed in 2008, according to the report.
The same year, taxes on commercial properties in the south suburbs would drop 2.7 percent, as more valuable homes accounted for a bigger share of the tax levy.
If the $20,000 cap was renewed, commercial properties would actually see an increase in taxes of about 5.6 percent. In other parts of Cook County, taxes on those properties would still fall. Meanwhile, homeowners would see a tax increase of only 3.5 percent.
The shift is even greater under Houlihan's proposed $60,000 cap. But spokesman Lucio Guerrero said homeowners have had to bear too rapid a rise in taxes.
"The 7 percent cap balances everything," Guerrero said. "So the commercial properties (in the south suburbs) do get an increase, but the residential decrease isn't as much as other areas. So everybody still kind of pays their fair share."
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker favors the program overall, but wants the maximum benefit to homeowners to remain capped at $20,000.
In Orland Park, almost 1 in 5 homeowners hit that limit last year, according to the report, meaning the taxable value of their land still went up more than 7 percent per year despite the cap.
"If you raise the number too high, you're no longer helping long-time homeowners, you're helping wealthy people," Brown said. "And you'll further aggravate the shift onto businesses."
Political battles over unrelated issues are also hamstringing the bill. Legislation needs to pass in the next few months if it's going to affect Chicago's tax bills.
If the cap fails, it will be a bigger burden on some homeowners than on others. Overall, the south suburbs would see a much smaller growth in taxes without the cap than in the city or north suburbs.
But the poorest communities would be hurt he worst. With no cap, the average homeowner's tax bill in Harvey would shoot up 45.9 percent, the highest of any Cook County suburb.

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