In the past several months, the Chicago Tribune has extensively researched and written about the assessment practices of Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, finding a pattern of:
“[C]lout, patronage and incompetence…that assigns property values and thus helps shape tax bills. Low-income and minority communities get hit harder than wealthier communities whose residents often hire attorneys to win assessment reductions.”
As ProPublica Illinois further stated:
“Amid the most tumultuous real estate market since the Great Depression, Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios produced valuations for thousands of commercial and industrial properties in Chicago that did not change from one reassessment to the next, not even by a single dollar.
That fact, one finding in an unprecedented ProPublica Illinois-Chicago Tribune analysis of tens of thousands of property records, points to a conclusion that experts say defies any logical explanation except one:
Berrios failed at one of his most important responsibilities — estimating the value of commercial and industrial properties.
What’s more, a separate analysis reveals commercial and industrial property assessments throughout Cook County were so riddled with errors that they created deep inequities, punishing small businesses while cutting a break to owners of high-value properties and helping fuel a cottage industry of politically powerful tax attorneys.”
We all know who they’re talking about. As the Tribune goes on to say:
“The clout-rich lawyers whose firms profit from Cook County’s property tax dysfunction — Speaker Madigan, Chicago Ald. Edward Burke and Senate President John Cullerton, to name a few — say almost nothing about Berrios. Worse, they’re rarely asked.”
There are those who have finally spoken up to call for change:
“U.S. Reps. Danny Davis, Bill Foster and Robin Kelly, along with Cook County Clerk David Orr, Cook County Board member Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and state Sen. Heather Steans, among others, have endorsed one of Berrios’ opponents.”
But have you noticed one name that’s noticeably absent?
The State’s Chief Law enforcement officer, someone who holds herself out as an advocate of Illinois taxpayers and consumers, has been totally silent on the Berrios “racket” (the Tribune’s word, not mine). And if there’s one person in this State who has the authority, not to mention the responsibility, for investigating what’s going on in the Assessor’s office, it’s the Attorney General of the State of Illinois.
The most important role of the Attorney General is to investigate and prosecute corruption anywhere it’s found. Here we have a case of “clout, patronage and incompetence” pointing to a pattern of corruption that screams for an investigation at the very least, perhaps leading to prosecution. Why haven’t we heard from our State’s chief prosecutor?
Those of us living outside of Cook County have long ago given up hope that it will someday shed itself of its well-earned reputation for political log-rolling and corruption. We understand that Attorney General Madigan’s father, Speaker Michael Madigan, controls the Illinois House, and the party which he leads, with a checkbook. We also understand that those of us who live outside of Cook County are thought of as nothing more than a collection of hayseeds who are expected to do nothing more than keep quiet and continue to subsidize Cook County’s excesses. But the fact is, this Cook County “friends and family” assessment racket not only benefits the high rollers, it hurts minorities, working families and those without political juice in Cook County as well as taxpayers throughout the entire State of Illinois.
The Illinois legislature just spent months creating an education funding formula that gives the Chicago Public Schools millions of dollars of other peoples’ money. Since the burden for paying for education in Illinois falls so heavily on the property tax, this shell game has the effect of lining the pockets of the very people who are the beneficiaries of doing business “The Chicago Way,” because what those beneficiaries don’t pay toward education falls onto the rest of us. This kind of blatant conflict of interest and self-dealing is Exhibit A when people talk about political corruption in Illinois, and it has to stop.
It shouldn’t fall to some rookie representative from McHenry County to point out the obvious here. If our State’s top lawyer will not immediately investigate this outrage, then it’s time to turn it over to someone who will. Chicago just picked up three new U.S. Attorneys; let’s see what they can find.
As for Ms. Madigan, as she plays out the string before stepping down next January, it would be nice if she’d finally let us know where her true loyalty lies: either with those who game a corrupt system which has allowed a select few to make fortunes, or to the oath she took to protect the people of Illinois. She can’t do both. If she can’t bring herself to investigate something so open and obvious sitting right beneath her nose, she shouldn’t wait to serve out the rest of her term. She should resign. Now.