Welcome to the Senate Republican Press Search.

View Article Details

Print

Democrats strangely mum on Berrios

Chicago Tribune

Friday, June 16, 2017  |  Article  |  Kristen McQuearyContact Reporter

Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios bristled recently at the suggestion that the property tax system in Cook County is an example of institutional racism.

The characterization, raised by a University of Chicago professor, came about in the Tribune three-part series called "The Tax Divide," which documented how the process of valuing property punishes low-income communities while easing the burden for wealthier ones.

Berrios said any suggestion of racism was out of line, particularly given his own Puerto Rican roots and his upbringing in public housing.

But the label wasn't personal.

The fact is Berrios, also chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, oversees a system of property assessment that leans more heavily on minority communities to shoulder the county's property tax burden while cushioning wealthier areas. Properties in affluent neighborhoods tend to be underassessed compared to their actual market values. Those property owners also are more likely to appeal, winning reductions in what they owe in property taxes.

Meanwhile, homes in low-income areas tend to be overassessed and owners less likely to file an appeal.

Are you listening Hegewisch, West Pullman and South Shore? Are you listening Austin and Little Village? Are you listening Proviso, Bloom, Rich and Thornton townships? If you own a home there, you're picking up more of Cook County's property tax burden than property owners in the Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, Wilmette and Winnetka.

So my question is, when is the protest march? Where do I pick up my T-shirt? How many hours until someone files legislation in Springfield or an ordinance at City Hall to start fixing this lopsided, broken system? Or at least puts out a press release feigning outrage?

So far, crickets.

Other than Cook County Clerk David Orr, who is troubled by the issue and is trying to rally other elected officials, there has been no outcry. Not from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago aldermen, Cook County Board members or state lawmakers who represent the areas hardest hit.

They know property taxes are crushing their communities. Now they have more information on why. And yet, they're decidedly quiet.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has been standing with Berrios for most of his rocky tenure as assessor. She has endorsed him. She has defended him. Despite his insider status and her proclamations of being an outsider, despite multiple ethics issues that have arisen within his office, despite an exhaustive Tribune report that verifies how minority communities are harmed, Preckwinkle is still with him.

Let me just pose the question: Can you imagine the outrage if the assessor were a Republican?

Berrios is right that it's impossible to get 1.8 million properties assessed with precision. But he also mothballed a model that was designed to make the process fairer. Private foundations — the big guns in the city — set aside resources to implement it. It didn't happen.

In so doing, or not doing, Berrios has protected an unfair, unjust property assessment racket. He has stoked it. He defends it because any homeowner can appeal his or her tax bill.

Who do you think has more time and resources available to do that? A bungalow owner in Calumet City working two jobs or a Gold Coast condo owner in retirement? The accessibility and increasing number of appeals is nothing to brag about. It is proof the system is whacked.

Let me know when the Democrats who represent the areas hardest hit, who claim to be the voice for the little guy, hold Berrios and the Democrats who make money off the broken system, particularly property tax lawyers House Speaker Michael Madigan and Ald. Ed Burke, accountable.

Let me know when someone has the courage to step up and call them out. I'll be waiting with my megaphone and my T-shirt.

Kristen McQueary is a member of the Tribune Editorial Board.

kmcqueary@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @statehousechick