Pay up, suckers | Bleader

Friday, October 30, 2009

Pay up, suckers

Posted By on 10.30.09 at 10:40 AM

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The latest batch of property tax bills has been sent out and the results are just coming in.

My annual analysis of who pays what (I know, I'm an incurable geek) illustrates what Assessor Jim Houlihan has been saying for the last several years: residents on the south and west sides are seeing the greatest leaps in their assessments, so they're getting the biggest jumps in their bills.

Hey, no one said this stuff is fair. In fact, when you look at how it's affecting some of our esteemed public servants, you'll have to agree it's fairer for some more than others.

Take the City Council as an example. The biggest loser — as in the alderman whose second installment property tax bill went up by the largest percentage over the first installment — looks to be 16th Ward alderman Joann Thompson of low-income Englewood. Her taxes went up from $229 to $540 — a 135 percent leap.

And the biggest winner — as in that lucky so-and-so whose tax bill went up the least — is 14th Ward alderman Ed Burke, the finance committee chairman who lives in a mansion on the southwest side. His taxes went up from $4,275 to $4,349 — a 1.7 percent jump.

Remember, your tax bill is roughly determined by multiplying the value of your property by the tax rate. So to keep it really basic, if your property is assessed at $100 and the tax rate is 10 percent, you pay $10 in taxes. The lower your assessment in relation to everyone else's assessment the less you pay.

Here's another way of looking at it. Government needs a certain amount of property tax dollars to pay its bills — think of it as a big barrel they have to fill. They don't care who pays what as long as the barrel gets filled. So the more Alderman Thompson kicks in the less Alderman Burke has to pay. The way I see it, Alderman Burke should give Alderman Thompson a big bouquet of roses since her loss is his gain.

I didn't look at every elected official's tax bill, but of the 40 or so that I checked, the biggest winner was Congressman Bobby Rush. His taxes actually fell from about $1,824 in the first installment to $1,701 in the second. That's not the result of his neighborhood, Bronzeville, plummeting in value so much as his decision to finally sign up for the homeowner's exemption. I take this as a personal triumph since I urged him to sign up way back in 2004, when I did my first survey of who pays what. Most tax appeal lawyers get paid for the tax breaks they win for their clients. I'm not smart enough to calculate exactly how much Rush is saving thanks to the exemption. But don't sweat it, congressman — just send my portion to the charity of your choice.

Another big winner was the biggest local politician of all — President Obama. The property tax bill on his mansion in Kenwood rose by $223 — from about $11,116 to $11,339 — a relatively modest 2 percent hike. And he's actually paying too much because he's not getting the homeowner's exemption. Come to think of it, it would look sort of tacky to claim the exemption while living in the White House.

County Board President Todd Stroger's tax bill went up from $653 to $694 — a 6.3 percent hike — for his south side bungalow. Quick, tell the Tribune.

Assessor Houlihan saw the taxes on his Lakeview mansion go up 4.8 percent from $11,762 to $12,330.

As for House Speaker Michael Madigan, the taxes on his southwest side home went up 14.5 percent. Personally, I think he should volunteer to pay a greater share, since he usually makes it so difficult to get an expanded homeowner's exemption through the General Assembly.

By the way, Speaker Madigan's clients fared far better. That's right, Madigan runs a booming property tax appeal business on the side. The John Hancock tower saw its taxes fall by roughly $260,000, or 6.2 percent (though they still have to pay about $3.9 million, just to give you some perspective).

And how did our TIF-loving, Olympics-chasing mayor do this time around? Well, let's see, Mayor Daley's taxes on his South Loop town home went up to about $7,051 from $6,587, a 7 percent hike.

But don't feel bad, Mr. Mayor. You still did better than I did. My taxes went up 13.3 percent. Maybe I should hire Speaker Madigan for the appeal.

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