State: Tax change sought by Chicago passes committee

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — A key feature of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal to raise Chicago property taxes cleared an Illinois House committee on Tuesday.

Emanuel’s four-year plan seeks to raise Chicago property taxes by about $540 million over four years.

But to make it more acceptable and to lighten the burden on homeowners, the city is calling for a doubling of the general homestead property tax exemption, or the amount subtracted From homeowner’s assessed valuation as a form of tax break.

The current general exemptions are $7,000 for Cook County and $6,000 for downstate Illinois.

Chicago’s proposal, which passed out of committee on an 8-5 party line vote Tuesday with Republicans opposed, would raise the general exemption to $14,000.

The point of the exemption, Deputy Chicago Mayor Steve Koch said, would be to offset enough of the tax increase to hold harmless or not increase the tax liability for owners of homes with market values of $250,000 or less.

Any Illinois county could opt in and choose any general exemption up to $14,000 said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, who presented the bill. Raising the general exemption would not be mandatory.

Several business groups oppose the bill, arguing it shifts too much burden to already heavily taxed and regulated Chicago commercial and industrial sectors.

Michael Reever of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce said Cook County businesses are already taxed at a rate about two and a half times greater than residential properties.

“At a time of shared sacrifice the mayor is calling on everyone to make, this is not a shared sacrifice and not equally laid out on all parties and stakeholders,” Reever told the committee.

Emanuel’s called for tax increase largely to bolster the health of Chicago police and firefighter pension funds, which are underfunded.

Currie said the revenue is needed, and Chicago’s request is not forcing a change on anyone but leaving the decision in local hands.

“It does give every county in Illinois the opportunity to say yes or no to changes in the homeowner exemption,” she said. “We’re not imposing anything from Springfield.”

Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, said given the potential impacts on business and renters, Republicans were having difficulty getting behind the idea.’

“There’s a (tax) burden shift here,” Harris said. “The burden is clearly going to other taxpayers, to businesses and others, and it may or not be slight.”

The proposal is contained in House Floor Amendment 2 to Senate Bill 1488.

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