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Property tax assessment cap not a fix

Monday, October 01, 2007
Daily Southtown

The Issue: Should lawmakers override Gov. Rod Blagojevich's amendatory veto of a 7 percent assessment cap?
We say: Yes. The 7 percent program is not the answer to real property tax relief, and making it permanent would be a mistake.
State lawmakers will gather in Springfield this week for the fall veto session, which is their first chance to revisit a property tax bill affecting Cook County homeowners that Gov. Rod Blagojevich altered with an amendatory veto.
The bill is known as the "7 percent solution." Essentially, the bill extends for three years a law passed in 2004 that created a ceiling for skyrocketing home assessments. At a time when many homeowners in Chicago and Cook County were seeing astronomical increases in the assessed value of their homes, the Legislature agreed to test a program pushed by Assessor Jim Houlihan that attempted to cap assessment increases at 7 percent per year.
The bill meant homeowners still saw their assessments rise, but they could better predict the amount. Cook County's triennial reassessment schedule meant that most homeowners could expect a maximum assessment increase of no more than 21 percent per three-year tax cycle. The program functioned through an expansion of the homeowners exemption to a maximum of $20,000 in equalized assessed value. Many homeowners in fast-growing, desirable neighborhoods exceeded the $20,000 cap, however, so they didn't fully capture the relief Houlihan wanted.
This year, Houlihan set out to make the 7 percent bill more aggressive for that population. He originally sought a $60,000 homeowners exemption, but House Speaker Michael Madigan refused, contending the exemption was too high. In the end, after months of negotiation, the only version to which Madigan agreed set the exemption at $40,000 the first year of the program, $26,000 the second year and $20,000 the third year of the program. Once again, the program would sunset after three years.
Lawmakers supported the compromise, but Houlihan has maintained they would have supported something more aggressive had Madigan allowed a vote. Houlihan was frustrated that one person - Madigan - blocked options for lawmakers by simply refusing to call Houlihan's version for a vote.
So last week, Houlihan joined with Blagojevich, who amendatorily vetoed the bill and added the provisions Houlihan wanted. Blagojevich made the program permanent and set the homeowner's exemption at $40,000 of assessed value.
The new version comes back to the Legislature, which can either accept the changes or override Blagojevich's veto, letting the version they passed stand. If the two chambers fail to agree or take no action, the 7 percent program dies altogether.
While we understand and commend the motivations of Houlihan, who is trying to better prepare homeowners for their assessments, we have reservations about the program's fundamentals. Most areas seeing rapid assessment growth are located on the North Side or in well-to-do areas.
The reality is, if these homeowners are paying less than they normally would, someone else is picking up the slack. Overall, the Southland does not benefit to the same degree that other areas of the county benefit under the 7 percent program. The cap is simply a Band-Aid on a flawed property tax system.
Therefore, we urge our lawmakers to override the governor's veto. By doing so, they keep the program for three more years, a reasonable timetable.
But making permanent a program whose long-term ramifications remain unknown is not sound public policy. If property owners want the program to continue three years from now, lawmakers have the option of once again extending it.
Perhaps by then, the Legislature will want real property tax reform. You know, when pigs fly.
In the meantime, we support the version Madigan backed, and we urge lawmakers to reject Blagojevich's changes.

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