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Property Tax Break Plan Pushed by Ald. Moreno as Record Increase Looms

By Ted Cox | March 8, 2016 11:28am
 Backed by Ald. Pat Dowell (l.) and West Town resident Jay Ramirez, Ald. Joe Moreno calls for immediate hearings on a property-tax rebate.
Backed by Ald. Pat Dowell (l.) and West Town resident Jay Ramirez, Ald. Joe Moreno calls for immediate hearings on a property-tax rebate.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) is renewing his call for a property-tax rebate program as city residents brace for this summer's increased tax bills.

Moreno's proposal is meant to ease the impact of the record $589 million increase in property taxes approved by the City Council last year to make police and fire pension funds solvent, and it would grant rebates to homes with household income under $100,000.

According to Moreno, 57 percent of Chicago homes would be eligible for rebates, with the understanding that "the less you make, the more relief you get."

Moreno said Tuesday in a news conference at City Hall that while he supports Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to ease the sting of the tax hike — by doubling the homeowner exemption for houses valued under $250,000 — he pointed out that it would require action by the General Assembly, which remains locked in a budget impasse with Gov. Bruce Rauner.

"I don't think any of us have the confidence that Springfield is moving forward," Moreno said. "Now we are here in March, and still nothing has happened."

"Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been clear that the necessary property tax increase to support police and fire pensions should not burden those who can least afford it," said spokeswoman Molly Poppe. "While the city continues to work in Springfield to pass the doubling of the homeowners’ exemption, we are also aware of the logjam and current unwillingness of the governor to put policy ahead of politics, which is why the administration is also exploring with City Council balanced property-tax-rebate proposals that minimize the property-tax increase on working- and middle-class families."

The 2016 city budget passed with a provision calling for a rebate proposal to be prepared if the legislature has not acted on the expanded homeowner exemption by the end of April. Moreno said it was essential to get the process moving in the next month with hearings in the Finance Committee to grant some sort of relief for increased property-tax bills expected to go out this summer with payments due in August.

Moreno and Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) submitted competing rebate proposals last year, while Emanuel proposed his expanded homeowner exemption.

Moreno insisted Ramirez-Rosa's proposal was "open to lots of abuse," as it sets different eligibility limits in household income, but hastily added, "These are not at odds" and that they are already discussing a potential compromise. Poppe confirmed the mayor is working on a compromise proposal combining ideas.

According to Moreno, city Budget Director Alexandra Holt has estimated the cost of the rebate program between $35 million and $40 million. He said it could be paid through new tobacco taxes and a a new garbage fee program that would charge by how much trash residents throw away, which he said would encourage recycling.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) cheered that idea, saying, "There is no incentive to recycle in the City of Chicago."

West Town resident Jay Ramirez joined Moreno in calling for a property-tax rebate, saying it would address an "epidemic of taxes being raised" in the city.

Families "need this relief to continue to stay in our neighborhoods," Moreno added. Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), who also backed Moreno's proposal, cited a similar program run under Mayor Richard M. Daley, saying that promotion of the relief options available would be key to making it successful.

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