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Gov boosts property tax relief
HOUSE MAY BLOCK IT | Doubles exemption, makes it permanent

Friday, September 21, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by DAVE MCKINNEY, STEVE PATTERSON

Now, Cook County homeowners may be the ones caught in the middle of the intensifying political feud between Gov. Blagojevich and House Speaker Michael Madigan.
The Democratic governor used his veto pen Thursday to rewrite Cook County property-tax relief legislation, radically reworking plans by Madigan (D-Chicago) to phase out property tax assessment caps in three years.
"Forty-nine out of 50 aldermen said this bill wasn't good enough. The Cook County Board said it wasn't good enough. And [Cook County] Assessor [James] Houlihan said it's not good enough," Blagojevich said. "I agree. We can do better. And with the changes I'm making today, over 75 percent of Cook County homeowners will see significant property tax relief."
But the move and likely House rejection of it leave in question whether any property tax relief will come from Springfield this year and whether the flow of taxes to school districts and local governments could be disrupted.
Less than an hour after the governor took action, the House appeared poised to block Blagojevich's move amid questions the governor may have overstepped his legal authority in changing the intent of legislation that passed the General Assembly overwhelmingly.
Blagojevich doubled the exemption for Cook County homeowners to $40,000 per year over what was in the original bill and made that increased exemption permanent instead of letting it lapse after three years.
"When you change things from a three-year program to a permanent program, just on that level alone, that appears to be way beyond the scope of the amendatory veto power," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.
Taking a direct shot at the speaker, Blagojevich noted that owners of the John Hancock Center and Prudential Building -- both clients of Madigan's law firm, which specializes in property-tax appeals -- would have derived property tax reductions in the "hundreds of thousands of dollars" under the speaker's plan. The governor argued Madigan's plan would shift a greater tax burden to homeowners and away from commercial property owners.
But proponents of the legislation said as originally passed it prevented wealthy homeowners from cashing in on big tax breaks at the expense of businesses, renters and those in less expensive homes.
Brown said the House Rules Committee has authority to keep amendatory vetoes bottled up, thus preventing them from taking effect.
"The governor lost Wednesday in the Defraties case. He lost [Thursday] in the Mahoney case. Maybe he'll lose on this one, too," Brown said, referring to a pair of embarrassing legal setbacks for the administration.
Suit against clerk tossed
This week, Blagojevich quietly dropped a long and costly legal battle to fire Dawn Defraties and co-worker Michael Casey, personnel employees his administration once accused of placing clouted job applicants on the state payroll. They maintained they simply were taking orders from the governor's office.
The governor also saw a lawsuit he filed against House Clerk Michael Mahoney in a dispute over budget cuts tossed by a Sangamon County judge on Thursday.
But Blagojevich's supporters said if Madigan places a brick on Thursday's amendatory veto, the speaker will be responsible for skyrocketing property taxes.
"We are giving the speaker the chance to be for the homeowner," Houlihan said.


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