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Aldermen blast Madigan in tax-cap fight

Date Posted: 12/4/2007

(Crain’s) — The Chicago City Council is jumping into a bitter Springfield political war over property taxes, siding with Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan and Illinois Senate President Emil Jones against Speaker Michael Madigan and Mayor Richard M. Daley on the question of how much tax relief should be offered to whom. At a Monday morning press conference, aldermen released a letter signed by 49 of the 50 council members alleging that tens of thousands of homeowners in their wards will suffer under the “weak” relief plan being pushed by Mr. Madigan. The speaker’s bill “is nothing more than a disingenuous attempt at property tax relief and will result in most homeowners seeing increases as great as 40%” the letter states. But a spokesman for the speaker suggested that the aldermen “are not fully aware of the facts” and that “rich people” do not need property tax relief. At issue is Assessor Houlihan’s proposal to renew for another three years a measure that has effectively capped property-tax hikes at 7% a year for most homeowners. The law originally was enacted three years ago because the value of most residential property in Cook County has been rising far more than 7% a year. But Mr. Madigan has argued that such measures mostly favor owners of large homes and result in higher taxes on other homeowners and businesses. Under Mr. Madigan’s bill, which is awaiting a vote in the Senate, the full tax relief would apply only to those who have lived in their homes for more than 10 years and have a total household income of less than $75,000 a year. Monday, aldermen from throughout the city said such limits just don’t help their residents enough. “Do we want to keep our neighborhoods and our neighborhoods stable,” asked Ald. Eugene Schulter (47th), suggesting that many people would leave his mid-North Side ward if taxes are allowed to jump from $1,500 to $3,000 over three years. Ald. Rick Munoz (22nd), who represents a working-class Latino area on the Southwest Side, said his homeowners might not gain as much under a true cap bill as residents elsewhere, but still would be ahead an average of $750 a year. Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), whose ward covers a portion of the heavily African-American West Side, said his residents “already have financial challenges…Why do we want to increase taxes so much?” Ald. Vi Daley (43rd) said taxpayers in her Lincoln Park ward already pay $10,000 to $30,000 a year and cannot afford a big hike on top of that. Mayor Daley had been allied with Assessor Houlihan in the tax squabble, but switched sides several weeks ago amid rumors that Mr. Madigan had promised help on some of the city’s other initiatives in Springfield. President Jones has not indicated whether he will pass, defeat or amend Mr. Madigan’s bill. Meanwhile, business groups say that any reduction in taxes for homeowners forces up taxes on them, and support only a limited cap. Ald. Frank Olivo (13th), from Mr. Madigan’s ward, was the sole alderman not to sign the letter.

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