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Let the unfair 'tax cap' die.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Chicago Tribune

The first thing you need to know if you're a homeowner in Cook County is that the
politicians are about to make your property tax bill go down. Or up. Good luck
figuring out which way it's going to go.

Well-meaning pols have created an unholy mess of the tax system here.

Three years ago, the Illinois General Assembly put a cap on the annual growth in the
assessment of most homes in the county. Most -- but not all. Because the cap limited
how much property taxes would rise each year on most homes, everybody else paid more
in taxes. The cap prompted a rise in taxes for some homeowners, and most owners of
businesses and apartment buildings.

Yes, that means if you're a renter, your landlord saw his tax bill get squeezed
upward. And you know who ended up paying for that.

If you thought all this tax cap business was murky (what's it costing me?), just wait.
The cap expires this year. But the well-meaning pols -- OK, well-meaning may be a
foolish assumption here -- have been trying to come up with a way to keep it alive.

Here's what has happened.

The legislature passed a bill that would expand the assessment cap for one year so
more homes come under it, but then would substantially reduce the cap for the next two
years. The idea was to gradually phase out the cap.

But Gov. Rod Blagojevich didn't like that idea. He rewrote the bill so it expands the
cap and makes it permanent.

The governor can't just write bills on his own and make them law, much as he seems to
think sometimes that he can. His action, which was an amendatory veto, has to be
approved or rejected by both house of the legislature.

Now it gets murkier and murkier.

The governor's friend, Senate President Emil Jones, plans to have the Senate approve
Blagojevich's version of a tax cap. But the governor's enemy, House Speaker Michael
Madigan, plans to have the House reject it.

If that's what happens -- Senate says yes, House says no -- there will be no new law
and the tax cap will expire.

So right now, homeowners have no idea what their tax bills will do over the next one,
two, three years.

And because Blagojevich, Madigan and Jones are once again staring each other down,
property tax bills in Cook County are going to be delayed. That means you get a little
more time to pay your bill, but your schools and villages have to wait longer to get
their money. Some of them will have to borrow money to tide them over, and you're
going to pay for that borrowing.

This page opposed the assessment cap three years ago because it made our
already-arcane property tax system even worse, and because it was a stealth tax burden
shift, helping some homeowners but costing other homeowners, as well as renters and
business owners.

This was bad policy from the start, and the wisest thing would still be to let the
assessment tax cap die. Yes, that will cause some tax bills to go up. But Cook County
needs to extract itself from this mess. The tax hit, by the way, may not be as dire
over time as the pols predict. The cap was put in place because a go-go real estate
market was causing assessments to skyrocket. The go-go market is gone, gone, and in
future years assessments are likely to reflect that. That should ease the pressure on
property tax bills.

So here's one case where we hope Blagojevich, Madigan and Jones have a nice, long
staring contest, and achieve nothing. Which would be something.

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