Cook County Assessor Wants Property Tax Caps

Published March 1, 2004

In a January 28 article in the Chicago Tribune, Cook County, Illinois Assessor James Houlihan renewed his call for state lawmakers to “impose a 7 percent per year cap on increases in residential property assessments in Cook County.

“The assessment cap allows for certainty,” said Houlihan, a Democrat. “It allows for our neighborhoods to improve without individual homeowners fearing that they can’t remain in that neighborhood. It does not jeopardize any school funding, and it creates a protection against the rise for inflation of property values creating more of a burden on individual homeowners.”

Houlihan said the cap “needs to be enacted by the end of April if it is to be applied to the second 2004 property tax installment bill,” which is usually due in the fall.

On February 4, the Illinois House of Representatives rejected, by a 61-49 vote, Houlihan’s proposed property tax cap measure, which focused only on Cook County.

State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), who sponsored the measure for Houlihan, said the rest of the state wasn’t included because leaders from the other counties didn’t ask. “Since no other counties actually asked to be involved in the bill, we limited it to the one county that did ask,” said Lang.

According to the Tribune, a spokesperson for House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) said Madigan would “work with Houlihan to try and refine the proposal” so that it could win approval.

Said State Sen. Carole Pankau (R-Itasca), “A good idea is a good idea, regardless of whether it’s proposed by a Republican or Democrat. Houlihan’s bill makes sense for Cook County taxpayers. I think it makes just as much sense for every other Illinois homeowner.”

“Chicago, along with Rockford, has lost more industrial jobs than any other area in the country,” noted Rep. Dave Winters (R-Shirland). “Why do the bills that we pass only concern Cook County when it’s good for the taxpayer, and you don’t allow us to expand it to the rest of the state?”

Broader Proposal Made

In a recent mailing to constituents, Pankau reported she had introduced HB 4068, which would limit increases in property tax assessments to 7 percent per year statewide. “In many suburbs, increased property values can lead to 30 percent, 50 percent, or even higher increases in assessments and property taxes,” she said. The proposal also increases the Illinois homeowner’s exemption from $3,500 to $4,500 and the senior exemption from $2,000 to $2,500.

State Rep. Lee A. Daniels (R-Elmhurst) wants property tax caps for DuPage County. “Many DuPage County residents are experiencing skyrocketing property values, and their property taxes are reflecting that,” Daniels said. “While we have local tax caps in place that limit the amount of money government can increase its spending, rapidly increasing home assessments are putting a greater burden on families while commercial property taxes change very little. This shift of burden onto the backs of homeowners is hard for seniors, people on fixed incomes, and families experiencing difficulty during these tough economic times.”

Daniels, a Republican, backs state legislation to alleviate the problem and has said he will introduce in the House a bill similar to the one Pankau introduced in the Senate. Daniels’ legislation also will provide a safety net for those who believe the state might eliminate tax caps in the future.

“The system is broke,” Houlihan said. “We fund schools from property taxes, making the property tax too high. And in that context, [even] $1 more for an individual homeowner [in taxes] is too much.”

Business, School District Opposition

The Houlihan/Lang bill was opposed by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and suburban school districts, who warned “it would shift a greater property tax burden to businesses and drain resources from some school districts.”

“Our estimates with some of our partners show that it’ll be a $3 billion shift onto the business community, those small owners of two and three flats,” said Jerry Roper, CEO of the Chamber. Roper says businesses already pay 51 percent of all taxes.

The first installment of Cook County property tax bills was mailed to property owners in late January. Those bills will not reflect the effects of the 2003 reassessment of city property. That will come in the second installment later in the year.

John Skorburg is the managing editor of Budget & Tax News. His e-mail address is [email protected].