Clarity in Tax Cap Is Law

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Byline: Jeffrey Gaunt and Catherine Edman Daily Herald Staff Writers

The first major rewrite of the state's property tax cap law is in the books.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed into law sweeping changes to the 15- year-old tax cap on Friday - a move proponents say will benefit taxpayers and taxing districts alike.

The old tax cap drew heavy criticism when a 2005 Daily Herald analysis showed taxing bodies collected millions of dollars more from voter-approved tax increases than many taxpayers - and school officials - anticipated.

The new truth-in-taxation law, shepherded by state Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, and state Rep. Mike Tryon, a Crystal Lake Republican, takes effect immediately.

"This is a monumental change," said state Rep. Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat. "I think it's critically important for truth in taxation. This will curtail the abuses that have occurred in many of our districts, and hopefully it will restore trust in the process."

The tax cap, first instituted in the early 1990s, sought to protect taxpayers from onerous property taxes as the value of homes in the area soared.

But the law contained a provision that removed some of those protections when voters approved property tax-rate increases.

The new law should go a long way toward plugging the holes in the tax cap, bringing it more in line with the original intent of the law, said Tony Quagliano, an accountant in Huntley District 158 who helped craft the new law.

"I'm ecstatic," Quagliano said. "This is basically as big as it gets - truth in taxation. ... I think this is just a huge bill that incredibly reforms something that existed for 15 years."

In November, taxing bodies for the first time will have to state on the ballot an estimate of exactly how much their tax-rate increase will cost the owner of a $100,000 house.

The taxing districts also now have to target specific tax rates on the ballot. Under the old tax cap, the districts instead asked for tax-rate increases, which turned out to be misleading.

"Now we have clarity on referenda," said state Sen. Chris Lauzen, an Aurora Republican. "People know what they're voting on. Clarity and simplification. Those are usually not words to describe tax policy."

Proponents of the new tax cap say they are pleased with the way it turned out, despite more than a year of debate over its wording and its effect.

"I've very proud of the bill," Harmon said. "I'm proud of the process and the tenacity of the folks that participated. …