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Tax cap rewrite sends bill back to legislature

Thursday, September 27, 2007
Pioneer Press
by KAREN BERKOWITZ

Just when Cook County homeowners thought the renewal of the so-called 7-percent assessment cap was a done deal, a legislative rewrite by Gov. Rod Blagojevich has again put the bill at the center of an ongoing feud with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Blagojevich used his amendatory veto power Sept. 20 to raise the maximum size of the exemption and provide more coverage for owners of pricier homes and those with above-average assessment increases.
Saying the bill sent to his desk provided too little relief to Cook County homeowners, Blagojevich used his veto to raise the maximum size of the exemption homeowners can receive the first year following the reassessment from $33,000 to $40,000.
Under the governor's revisions, homeowners would be entitled to another $40,000 exemption during the second and third years following the reassessment, if needed to effectively cap the growth in assessments at 7 percent a year.
The bill approved by the House and Senate Aug. 10 raised the exemption to $33,000 the first year, but lowered it over the next two years, respectively, to $26,000 and $20,000.
The exemption is deducted from the home's tax value before the bill is computed.
The governor also rewrote the bill to make the tax relief measure permanent rather than subject to renewal after three years.
The Illinois legislature is expected to consider the changes when lawmakers return to Springfield Tuesday.
Blagojevich contended his raising the exemption ceiling to $40,000 would result in lower property tax bills for 76 percent of Cook County homeowners.
Both the Illinois House and Senate now must vote either to let the governor's changes stand, or override the veto. An override would require a three-fifths vote in both chambers. Senate President Emil Jones, a Blagojevich ally, has said he won't push to override the veto.
Business groups were quick to decry Blagojevich's changes as "outrageous."
"Permanently raising the exemption limit to $40,000 will benefit only the wealthiest of homeowners who are already experiencing the greatest property appreciation, leaving taxpayers with more modest homes and those who don't qualify ... to pick up the shortfall," said Jerry Roper, president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. "He is attempting to make permanent a measure that was fundamentally designed to be phased out over time."
The "7 percent cap" was first enacted in 2004 to protect homeowners from a sudden tax whiplash because of rapid rises in home prices. The measure has phased in higher assessments through an expandable homeowner exemption.
The political volleying could further delay the computation and mailing of second installment property tax bills in Cook County and put more taxing districts in a financial bind. Cook County Assessor James Houlihan, who supports the governor's changes, said that if the legislature acts quickly, tax bills still could be mailed in time for a Nov. 15 due date.
The governor made no changes to most of the new and expanded exemptions written into the compromise bill. Those included a new income-based assessment cap for long-term homeowners who've occupied the premises for 10 or more years.
The measure limits assessment growth to 7 percent a year for homeowners with household incomes of $75,000 or less. For homeowners with incomes between $75,000 and $100,000, the growth in assessments would be capped at 10 percent a year.
The advantage of the income-based relief is that there is no limit on the size of the exemption.


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