Truth and taxes | Bleader

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Truth and taxes

Posted By on 02.13.08 at 04:53 PM

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He's at it again.

In this week's Works, I wrote about a recent press conference where Mayor Daley denounced  the county assessor's office and called for widespread "corrections" to property tax assessments.

Now, in today's Tribune, there's an op-ed by the mayor that tells a few more whoppers about his role in our property tax system.

For starters, he claims that he "proposed the original plan that became the 7 percent cap on the taxable value of homes." Not only did Daley not propose the original plan (Cook County assessor Jim Houlihan did), he did very little of the lobbying needed for the watered-down version that passed.

But the big daddy of tall tales in his editorial is this one: "Even with the increase in Chicago property taxes in this year's budget, city property taxes have risen a average of only 1.5 percent a year since I've been mayor."

The only reason Daley can make this claim is because he's not counting hikes in school taxes and, more to the point, he doesn't regard TIFs as property taxes that residents have to pay. Instead, the mayor's official policy is that TIFs dollars are created by some sort of magical City Hall money-making machine at no expense to taxpayers.

But as Cook County clerk David Orr's TIF report makes clear, that's just not so. In 2004 Chicagoans paid $328 million in property taxes to the TIFs; in '05 the TIF property tax take went up to $386 million, and in '06 it rose to $500 million. I suspect the TIF tax surpassed $600 million in 2007, but we won't know for sure until Orr's office completes the official tally in the summer.

Once you factor in the TIFs you get a more realistic idea of why your property tax bill is rising. In 2005, taxpayers paid about $719 million in taxes to the city and another $386 million to the TIFs for a total of about $1.105 billion. In 2006, they paid about $736 to the city and $500 million to the TIFs, for a total of $1.236 billion. That's an $131 million increase, or 12 percent.

In time the amount of property taxes Mayor Daley collects through TIFs -- while claiming you're not really paying into them -- will exceed the amount he officially acknowledges you are paying. We'll be paying twice as much in property taxes as the city acknowledges we are.

It's one thing for Mayor Daley to dwell in a dream world where property taxes aren't really property taxes. But the rest of us still have to pay the bill. 

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