By The Editorial Board Chicago Tribune

Get ready, Chicago homeowners, businesses and apartment dwellers. You’re next in Cook County’s property reassessment process — a property valuation system that the new Cook County assessor, Fritz Kaegi, is trying to balance out. It won’t be pretty.

Chicago property owners this year will begin to receive new valuations of their homes and businesses that will be part of their property tax formula. Commercial buildings could be hit hard. The reassessment cycle could mean higher property tax bills, and higher rents passed along, in a state with already too-high property taxes.ADVERTISING

Just ask the north and northwest suburbs, which went through the process under Kaegi. The assessment corrections pushed up taxable values an average of 15%. The south and west suburbs have been completed too, and the hit on businesses has been substantial while homeowners are expected to see some relief. That’s the only good news.

The property tax burden in Illinois is not a new problem. Politicians in Springfield have kicked the can for years on policy changes that could have decreased dependence on property taxes and made Illinois a more affordable and attractive state in which to live and work.

And voters allowed a lopsided tax system in Cook County to flourish under previous assessors. South suburban Park Forest and Ford Heights, for example, continue to pay the county’s highest property tax rates — communities that can least afford it. Who pays the lowest average rates in Cook County? Property owners in Burr Ridge, Barrington and Glenview.

That doesn’t mean wealthier suburban homeowners have smaller tax bills than homeowners in Park Forest; it means they pay less compared to their properties’ overall worth. Low-income communities for decades have shouldered more of the burden than their wealthier counterparts.

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But there is hope for Illinois to inch toward a better system. Voters elected Kaegi in 2018 to right wrongs in the assessment system. He seems to be doing it. And with former House Speaker Michael Madigan — a property tax attorney whose firm made millions from the broken system — out of the statehouse, it is possible lawmakers will be willing to move in a new direction.

Where to start? With the reintroduction of a bill Kaegi pushed and Madigan squashed that would require certain income-generating properties to disclose their income and expenses to the assessor’s office. That way, the assessor can better assign an accurate value.

Commercial owners don’t want to do that, however. For one, they see it as a government intrusion into their private territory. Yet they already are required at the second level of the tax appeal process to turn over that information. Kaegi just wants it sooner.

They also don’t want to expose themselves to even higher tax bills, which is understandable.

But to that we ask: Have commercial property owners pushed for meaningful pension changes at the state and local levels that would reduce the property tax burden? Called for less government spending? Did they fight for government consolidation, including school districts, that would reduce the number of taxing bodies? Did they lobby for pro-business reforms that would make Illinois more attractive to employers, thus spreading out the tax burden?

Or did they hire a clouted tax attorney, get their bills lowered, make the appropriate campaign donation and wait for the next round? That was the only game in town for years. To survive, many business owners did play the game. But it did nothing to get at the root of government spending.

We all have an interest in lowering property taxes in Illinois. There’s a right way, and a wrong way, to do it.

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