“Silence of the Dems”, Lisa Madigan Edition

illinois-land-of-corruption-hatIn 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?

Lisa Madigan.

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.

Posted in Local Government, Property Taxes, Taxes | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

So What? It’s Not My Money.

“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” –  Everett Dirsken

DeskWhen you’re as broke as we are here in Illinois, you don’t have that much margin for error. That’s what leads us to this picture of my empty desk in the Capitol Building. Generally, there’d be a laptop sitting there. Each of us has a Think Pad issued to us for our use on the floor, and their use is generally confined to reading staff updates and analysis of bills then under consideration. Every time a bill is called, the latest analysis automatically pops up on the screen. They’re fully functional machines, with full internet access and a full suite of word processing and other tools.

There isn’t one of us in the House who thinks we need a new laptop. But somebody decided that at the end of this past session, all 118 members of the House (I’m not sure what’s going on in the Senate) needed a new one. At an average price of $400 apiece, that means the State is ponying up some $47,000 to buy something none of us asked for and none of us need.

I know, $47,000 is nothing but a rounding error in a $36 billion budget, but maybe it’s the type of expense people can understand when we talk about how much money is wasted in this State. If you can’t wrap your head around a number as big as $36 billion, it’s not so hard to imagine spending $47,000 on something you have no use for.

This is just one example of the type of casual indifference to how the Illinois legislature spends other peoples’ money. Think about all the others that you don’t hear about.

Posted in Cost of Government, Illinois Budget | 1 Comment

Putting the Brakes on County Board Chairman Excesses

I’ve written the following letter to the Governor, asking him to veto House Bill 171:

HB 171 Letter

Also, if you want to refresh your memory as to what this is all about, here’s a trip down memory lane:

County Executive Forum

Watch this video on YouTube.
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If At First You Don’t Succeed, Go to Springfield to Get Your Way

In 2012 the voters of McHenry County voted down a referendum which would have established a “County Executive” form of government. As described in an article by Kevin Craver in the Northwest Herald, the authority of the County Executive included:

  • Preparing the county’s annual budget;
  • Appointing people to boards and commissions;
  • Hiring and firing department employees;
  • Entering into intergovernmental agreements;
  • Negotiating with public and private entities to promote economic development;
  • Redrawing county board district boundaries after each decennial U.S. Census;
  • Appointing independent legal counsel.

After the referendum was defeated, the voters of McHenry County in 2014 passed a referendum to make the position of County Board Chairman a popularly-elected position, instead of being appointed by the members of the Board itself. In 2016, McHenry County elected its first popularly elected Board Chairman.

Not content with to work within the boundaries prescribed by the Illinois Counties Code, a bill narrowly tailored to apply to McHenry County was offered up during veto session which expanded the powers of the Chairman to do the following:

“With the advice and consent of a majority of the county board, a county board chairman elected by the voters of the county shall:

  • Create standing committees; and
  • Appoint members and chairpersons to standing committees.

This Section applies to counties having a population between 300,000 and 900,000.”

If these changes are going to be made, the voters of McHenry County should be the ones to make them. Instead, what we’re getting is the County Executive form of government by going to Springfield, which is a craven end-around attempt to do what the people of McHenry County rejected in 2012. I spoke out against the bill on the House floor, and I will encourage the Governor to veto the bill when it hits his desk.

Rep. Reick Fights to Preserve Voter Intent in McHenry County

Watch this video on YouTube.
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Electoral Chicken Feed Disguised as a Tax Freeze

They call it “Veto Session”, but it really ought to be called “Propose Bills and Make Speeches That Can Be Used on Campaign Materials Session”.

Case in point: Senate Bill 851, which would require counties to freeze all property tax levies for two years, and would increase the real estate homestead exemption from $6,000 to $10,000 and would increase the Senior homestead exemption from $5,000 to $8,000.

Generally, I’d say that anything that lowers property taxes is a good thing, and I’d be in full support. What S.B. 851 does is give everyone in Illinois the same homestead and Senior exemption that was given to Cook County in May. However, if it wasn’t good enough to give to everyone outside Cook County then, what makes it such a good idea now? Why? Electoral politics, of course. The bill’s sponsor is considered a target in the November election and needs to burnish her credentials for the folks back home. I voted against S.B. 473 in May because it did nothing for the people in my district, and while it now gives us the same treatment as Cook County, the combination of this with the two-year freeze will do more harm than good.

And here’s why:

  • First of all, it paints all taxing districts with the same broad brush. There are plenty of taxing districts here in McHenry County that have held their levies flat for years, and in some instances decreased them. They don’t need that model of financial rectitude, the Illinois legislature, to tell them how to do their business.
  • Second, the combination of increased exemptions and the freeze will do nothing to lower property taxes; all it will do is shift that burden to renters and businesses. We’re having a hard enough time as it is attracting and keeping businesses in this county, we don’t need to drive up their tax burdens even further.
  • While property taxes are too high, S.B. 851 carves out an important exemption: debt. Local governments have in most cases already set their budgets for the current year. If this bill were to be enacted, they’d be driven into a situation of having to borrow to pay current bills. Raise your hand if you think that’s a good idea.

I’ll be the first to say we need property tax reform, I’ve been saying it for years. But you don’t get reform by offering up “gotcha” bills just before an election year. I spoke against the bill on the floor of the House, my comments are here:

Rep. Reick: "Illinois needs tax reform, not tax gimmicks"

Watch this video on YouTube.

Here’s the final clue that this bill was just electoral chicken feed. After passing the House, the Senate adjourned without taking it up.

Posted in 2018 Election, Property Taxes | Leave a comment