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Property tax relief plan offered
Homeowners need aid, assessor says

Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Chicago Tribune

Cook County Assessor James Houlihan floated a plan Monday to help homeowners who face soaring property-tax bills in this troubled economy.

But his proposal would require some combination of approvals from state, county, city and suburban legislators—none of which was assured.

"Amid all of the financial concerns—possible job loss, foreclosure, erosion of retirement savings—[homeowners] are worried about escalating property taxes, and they see the values of their property declining," Houlihan said. "These individuals need immediate help."

Under his "circuit breaker" plan, homeowners who spend more than 5 percent of their income on property taxes would get up to $700 off their property-tax bill, with the money coming from the government emergency fund.

One way to pay for that relief is elimination in Cook of an across-the-board state income-tax credit equal to 5 percent of a property-tax bill. The revenue raised—about $200 million—would go to the emergency fund.

Other options were using excess city tax increment financing district funds and a portion of the county's new revenue from a penny-on-the-dollar sales-tax increase.

City Law Department officials said TIF funds cannot be used for property-tax relief.
Mayor Richard Daley would need specifics, including cost and who would be helped, before weighing in, spokeswoman Jodi Kawada said.

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger would like to provide relief but needs to assess the plan's feasibility, said spokesman James Ramos.

Houlihan said soaring city property taxes are the "direct result" of Illinois House Speaker
Michael Madigan leading legislators to phase out tax breaks designed to soften the blow of rapidly rising assessments.

Madigan's spokesman counterpunched. "If they did their job and didn't look for boogeymen, there wouldn't be a problem here," said Steve Brown.

Phasing out the tax breaks led to higher bills for 137,980 homeowners this year, said Eric Herman, a spokesman for Houlihan. The median increase was $799, he said.

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