Leaders of Illinois' newly elected Republican majority in the state General Assembly said an advisory vote in Cook County has persuaded them to try implementing statewide property tax caps early in the new legislative session.

In 1991, Illinois lawmakers approved a cap on tax increases for the five so-called "collar counties" that ring. Chicago. And, voting on an advisory question on last week's ballot, residents of Cook County gave a 6-to-1 margin in favor of following suit.

"It's a top priority .on our agenda for the spring," said Mike Cys, a spokesman for Illinois House Speaker-elect Lee Daniels, R-Elmhurst. "Cook County tax caps are virtually assured, and we're definitely going to be looking into statewide caps."

The existing caps limit property tax increases to 5% or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. State Republican officials said any additional caps would follow that model, though home-rule communities like Chicago would be exempt unless more than three-fifths of the legislators vote to apply it across the board. Chicago already has a self-imposed cap on its taxes that can be revoked by the city council at any time.

Collar counties also have the requirement of voter approval for any new general obligation bond issuance, but it is not clear if the restriction would be applied statewide.

A spokesman for state Senate Majority Leader James Philip, R-Wood Dale, said the Republican caucus is considering several ways to institute caps statewide. One proposal would give each county the option of setting up a tax cap. Another calls for individual counties to hold referenda on the caps.

Cys said tax caps have bipartisan support. "I think now with the different makeup of the House, there is a majority not only of Republicans but of lawmakers in general who want to hold down taxes."

Some opponents of tax caps have contended that they hamstring local governments and school districts that may need money. But Philip spokesman Mark Gordon said the critics don't understand the law. He said if local governments need steeper tax increases for capital projects or school improvements, they can ask voters in a referendum to suspend the cap and approve a higher levy.

-- Cris Carmody, Chicago

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