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New law gives senior citizens bigger tax break

Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Chicago Tribune
by Monique Garcia

Senior citizens will get a bigger break on their property tax bills under a measure Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law Tuesday, with homeowners in Cook County among the first to see savings.

The law increased the senior homestead exemption from $4,000 to $5,000, which could potentially save seniors more than $200 a year. The change goes into effect immediately for residents of Cook County, and will be valid on 2012 property tax bills that will be mailed out later this year.

For the state's remaining counties, the change will be applied to bills covering the 2013 tax year, which will be issued in 2014. Property taxes are paid one year behind in Illinois.

"We want to make sure the property tax system doesn't discourage home ownership by our seniors," said Quinn, noting they often live on a fixed income.

The measure was backed by Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, and also raises the general homestead exemptions for county residents. The move is meant to alleviate the blow of the expiration of what's commonly called the 7 percent homeowner exemption, a tax break put in place several years ago as real estate values rose.

Without the 7 percent break, Chicago homeowners could only claim a maximum reduction of $6,000, down from $8,000. The new law would set the exemption at $7,000 in Cook County, beginning with the 2012 tax year for Chicago residents.

Northern Cook County would remain at a $12,000 exemption for the tax year 2012, billed in July, and would be at the $7,000 level beginning in tax year 2013. Southern Cook County would remain $16,000 for tax years 2012 and 2013, and would move to the $7,000 level in 2014 tax year.

Meanwhile, the governor was reserved in his reaction to proposed legislation that would set tougher standards for those wanting to carry guns in Cook County. The measure would require those seeking to carry a gun within the county to undergo tougher scrutiny by state police. The idea is aimed at finding common ground among Chicago lawmakers opposed to guns and downstate legislators who embrace gun rights.

Lawmakers were given until June 9 to draft legislation allowing citizens to carry guns in public after a federal appeals court struck down the state's longtime ban.

Quinn said lawmakers should go further by allowing any home rule city or county to set their own gun regulations. Opponents of that idea say it would create a confusing patchwork of rules.



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