Cook County tax relief now up to Jones, Senate.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
by Ray Long and Jeffrey Meitrodt
Senate President Emil Jones moved to boost the size of a key property tax break for Cook County
homeowners Wednesday, putting in play new legislation aimed at settling the festering issue.
The movement came as Mayor Richard Daley unveiled a new city budget that would be balanced by a hefty
increase in Chicago's property taxes, placing even more pressure on lawmakers to keep the county break
The property-tax action unfolded on a day when the House gave Gov. Rod Blagojevich a rare legislative
victory this year, upholding his veto of a plan to increase the speed limit for big trucks on rural
interstates to 65 m.p.h.
The latest twist on the property-tax issue did not shed any new light on how soon Cook County will send
out its fall tax bills to homeowners, but it underscored the differences in the dispute between Jones,
Blagojevich's biggest ally, and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) on the 7 percent break that
is due to expire this year.
Blagojevich used his veto authority over the summer to rewrite property-tax legislation both chambers
sent him. He proposed changes that would have made the size of the property-tax breaks larger and made
them permanent instead of the three-year phase-out lawmakers had sent him.
But the House rejected Blagojevich's changes, overriding his veto action last week. That restored the
original level of property-tax relief and sent the legislation to the Senate. On Wednesday, the Senate
Executive Committee sent Jones' effort to renew the 7 percent cap on property tax assessments to the
full Senate, where its fate is uncertain.
Jones said the House version "takes away benefits" from homeowners that the governor's changes would
have provided. The new Senate version is between the governor's desired level of relief and the lower
level that was in the legislation the House chose to override.
Now the biggest question is whether Jones can round up the 36 votes to pass the new proposal. Sen.
Terry Link (D-Waukegan), the chief sponsor, said late Wednesday he felt good about his chances.
But Sen. Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) predicted it may fall short and senators then would go along with
the House override as a backup.
The current law, passed in 2004, granted homeowners an exemption of up to $20,000 in an attempt to
limit the annual growth of their taxable-assessed value to 7 percent. The new Senate proposal would
initially set the exemption at $40,000 and reduce it to $35,000 in the second year. The third year, it
would be set at $30,000 and then expire.
In the House, Blagojevich successfully lobbied to preserve the 55 m.p.h. speed limit for trucks by
pulling off more than 30 votes from legislation that overwhelmingly passed the House last May. All but
two of those switched votes came from Chicago-area lawmakers.
The vote to override surprised sponsoring Rep. Bob Flider (D-Mt. Zion), who said the measure had solid
support until the governor suddenly turned up the heat.
Illinois remains one of the most dangerous places to drive in America, with trucks accounting for 191
fatalities in 2005, sixth worst in the nation, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety