SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House on Wednesday approved legislation designed to provide property tax relief to Cook County residents facing steep increases in assessed valuation and to increase property tax exemptions statewide.
"There is something in this bill for everyone, there truly is," said state Rep. John Fritchey, D-Chicago.
If the Senate also passes SB 2112 and the governor signs it into law, downstate homeowners could save money on their property taxes, and senior citizens could save even more.
The general homestead exemption for a homeowner's primary residence was set at $3,500 back in 1983. And while the exemption was increased to $4,500 for Cook County homeowners in 1992, the rest of the state remained at the old rate.
Cook County seniors also get an extra $2,500 break on their property assessments, while seniors in the rest of Illinois get an exemption of $2,000. The senior citizen homestead exemption kicks in at age 65.
State Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, has been trying for nearly a decade to equalize those exemptions among all 102 counties.
Earlier this spring he finally won House approval for a bill to increase the exemption to a uniform $5,000 for homeowners in all parts of the state with an extra $3,000 for seniors, but that measure stalled in the Senate.
Exemptions are subtracted from the assessed value of a property before it is taxed. A $150,000 home, for instance, should have an assessed value of $50,000 – a third of its market value. The current homestead exemption would lower that to $46,500; the new exemption would make it $45,000. In Champaign, that would mean a tax savings of about $115. The increased senior citizen exemption would lower taxes on such a house by another $77 in Champaign.
An increase in the home's assessment, though, could offset some or all of the savings from the exemptions.
Black's proposed changes in exemptions then were added on to SB 2112, which also includes an initiative from Cook County Assessor James Houlihan designed to help longtime homeowners in that part of the state afford the skyrocketing taxes on their property.
"This is about helping homeowners stay in their homes," Fritchey said.
The bill would automatically cap assessment increases at 7 percent a year in Cook County, which could help hold down increases in property tax bills.
Other counties could vote to opt in if they felt that the limit was needed, but downstate lawmakers said it would be unlikely to help homeowners in their counties because assessments are not climbing as rapidly there.
Business groups have complained that the legislation would mean they would have to shoulder more of the property tax burden. And since the assessment cap would not apply to apartment buildings with more than six units, renters could have to pay more too.
"It's another job busting bill," said state Rep. David Winters, R-Shirland. "It's bad for the state."
But state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said the bill would result in "a very insignificant shift" in the property tax burden in Cook County, an estimated $100 million a year compared to the county's total annual tax levy of $26 billion.
Black said Houlihan's initiative is "going to widen the inequities in the property tax system" and was very angry that it was linked to his efforts to increase and equalize property tax exemptions.
"All I wanted was equity and you finally invite me to dinner and you set me off to the side and all you give me is crumbs," he yelled.
Black was so irate that he found himself voting against the property tax exemption legislation he has spent almost 10 years trying to pass. State Rep. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, and state Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, also voted no, while state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, voted yes.
SB 2112 passed in the House on a vote of 77 to 39.
On Black's HB5533, which only included the property tax exemption increases, the vote was 115-0.
On SB 1498, which only included the assessment cap language, the House vote was 67 to 44. Jakobsson voted yes, while Rose, Black and Cultra voted no.
It appears that SB2112, which combines both measures, is the only one that has a shot of reaching the governor's desk this spring.
You can reach Kate Clements at (217) 782-2486 or via e-mail at email@example.com.