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A tax relief plan that makes sense
Blagojevich/Houlihan option is better choice

Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
Editorial

Of the two tax relief plans being bandied about in Springfield, one clearly benefits homeowners more than the other. And since nearly all of the Sun-Times editorial board members own their own homes, we've decided to come down on the side of self-interest and back the one that gives us the biggest break. Of course, it also gives most of you a huge break, too.
In an exercise of full disclosure, we put our own property tax bills to the test to show you how much is at stake here. Here's what we discovered: If lawmakers let either tax relief plan die, we will pay $35,207 in property taxes in 2008. A plan pushed by House Speaker Michael Madigan would save us $1,894. And a plan backed by Gov. Blagojevich and Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan would save us $5,237.
The Blagojevich/Houlihan plan is clearly the best deal for us, and also the best deal for most homeowners in Cook County. We believe the tax break makes the best policy and should be adopted right away.
But the way legislators have been acting this year, that's not likely.
The debate centers around renewing the tax relief passed by the Legislature in 2003 to temper the growth of property tax bills -- a result of booming housing prices. The program allowed homeowners to deduct $20,000 from their homes' taxable value each year in order to limit the growth to 7 percent a year. The so-called 7 percent solution largely succeeded in helping homeowners while not hurting businesses and other taxpayers.
The Legislature this summer passed Madigan's version of the renewal bill. He proposed a deduction of up to $40,000 next year but decreased deductions in the following years, ending the program in three years. He also included extra relief for those who make less than $75,000 a year and those who have lived in their homes more than 10 years.
But Blagojevich used his veto pen to make changes favored by Houlihan and most Chicago alderman. The deduction was raised to $40,000 every year. The income and long-term residency provisions were eliminated. And the program was made permanent.
Madigan and the Legislature now have three choices. They can accept the governor's plan. They can overrule him and go with Madigan's version. Or they can do nothing, and let the program expire -- which would result in an eye-popping 44 percent increase in the median Chicago tax bill.
Madigan's plan, while well-intentioned, makes an already complicated property tax system even more muddled. And why should someone in their house more than 10 years get a break over new arrivals?
We favor the Blagojevich/Houlihan plan for its simplicity -- even if we are the ones who benefit. Of course this means that businesses and apartment building owners will have to take up some of the slack. But those tax bills have been declining thanks to the residential real estate boom.
The Legislature is scheduled to meet next week. In the meantime, Cook County officials can't calculate or send out tax bills. School districts and other taxing bodies fear they'll have to wait too long for their cut of the revenues. They can't wait much longer. And neither can we.


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