Saturday, May 11, 2013


Kadner: A travesty of a mockery of a sham

Last Modified: May 11, 2013 12:10AM
Mike Madigan really wants to raise suburban property tax bills.
“This is going to happen,” the speaker of the Illinois House said last week, referring to the shift in funding pensions for suburban teachers from the state to local school districts. “There will be a new plan.”
The Legislature has been busy crafting a pension reform plan in Springfield. While the Senate and House each passed their version of reform, neither included the dreaded shift in funding to suburban and downstate school districts.
Legislators from those areas, beset by angry residents, had made it clear they would not go along with any pension reform plan that included shifting a larger burden of the pension costs to their constituents.
Last year, I cautioned readers that Madigan (D-Chicago), Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and Gov. Pat Quinn all supported the idea of sticking suburban homeowners with the tab for the state’s decades of neglect.
For 30 years, the state of Illinois has underfunded its five pension systems, but the Teachers’ Retirement System has suffered the most.
Billions of dollars for the pension funds were lost, misplaced or spent somewhere they shouldn’t have been. Nobody seems to care what happened to all that money.
Few seem to remember that the state had the legal obligation of funding the pension systems, and elected officials simply failed to do their jobs.
You paid tax money to fund the pensions. But your elected leaders chose to spend the money on something else.
The politicians, watchdog groups and newspaper pundits all seem to say it’s way too late to demand accountability.
The only thing to do now is reform the pension systems, shaft the government employees and stick taxpayers with higher bills.
It isn’t enough that Illinois workers were hit two years ago with the largest income tax increase in the state’s history.
The $7 billion a year raised by that “temporary” tax increase can’t even pay all of the state’s current bills, let alone the $100 billion or so owed the pension systems down the road.
Adding injury to trauma, the state also has failed to adequately fund its public education system. The Illinois Constitution assigns the state the “primary responsibility for financing the system of public education,” but it supplies less than 30 cents of every dollar spent on the public schools.
If you heard that a parent had been legally designated the primary responsibility for financing a child’s education and he was contributing only 30 percent of the cost, you would say the fellow ought to be hauled off to prison for violating a court order.
But this is Illinois. Laws don’t matter. Children don’t matter.
And taxpayers exist only so the politicians can suck the marrow from their bones.
Madigan says pension funding for downstate and suburban teachers must be moved to school districts because the current system is unfair to Chicago.
Chicago finances its teachers’ pension system, the argument goes, and Chicago taxpayers also contribute to the system for teachers outside the city.
What Madigan and the other Chicago politicians don’t say is that Illinois’ education funding system always has been rigged to shift more money to the city.
For nearly two decades, education experts, business leaders and financial watchdog organizations said the state had to raise the income tax to adequately fund public education.
But the Legislature raised the income tax and cut education funding.
And if the Legislature does shift the pension burden onto the backs of school districts, the districts will be faced with two choices: Cut school programs or raise property tax levies.
The governor’s response is to suggest that he would only sign a gambling expansion bill if the revenue went to education funding. The same ploy was used regarding money from the state lottery, and that resulted in yet another scandal.
This is a travesty of a mockery of a sham, to quote Woody Allen.
I have written about all of this many times, but each time the dust settles our inept, lazy and incompetent public officials revert to form.
As someone who believes that government is necessary, as a person who knows that taxes are the price of living in a civilized world, it is impossible to watch such mendacity without retching.
If suburban residents don’t let their legislators know they will not stand for a shift in pension funding, it’s going to happen.
With Madigan, Cullerton, Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel all pushing for the shift, it’s likely to occur no matter the volume of dissent downstate and in the suburbs.
The goal is to spread the cost shift over so many years, 10 to 15, that school districts won’t initially object and taxpayers won’t care.
The cost initially will be a small fraction of your local school district’s budget. But over time those costs will compound and eventually amount to billions of dollars.
It’s very similar to the scheme the Legislature used to drive the pensions systems to near collapse.
By the time the financial crisis hits the school districts, the lawmakers today no longer will be in office. No one will remember who is to blame.
If a finger of blame gets pointed at all, it will be in the direction of your school board.
In fact, the Legislature has had great success with that tactic already in regard to increasing property tax bills, caused in large part by the state’s refusal to fund education.
Let your representative in Springfield know that you will not turn a blind eye to further skullduggery.
Stealing money from children is not an acceptable way for the state to pay its debts.

Copyright © 2013 — Sun-Times Media, LLC

Friday, May 10, 2013

Kadner: A factor in multiplying tax confusion

Last Modified: May 10, 2013 05:26PM
There may be someone who can explain how the property tax is calculated in Cook County, but chances are you wouldn’t want to talk to him.
The property tax is probably the chief gripe of people who live and own businesses in the suburbs. Nobody understands how it’s calculated, and tax bills keep going up.
In a news release this week, the Illinois Department of Revenue announced that it has determined that the 2012 final equalization factor for Cook County is 2.8056.
The equalization factor also is known as the “multiplier,” but as Shakespeare once said, “An apparently random number by any other name still stinks.”
Here’s the really important thing the revenue department wants you to know: “The equalization factor does not cause individual tax bills to go up.”
I find that humorous because everyone who gets paid for handling property tax stuff in Illinois seems to be in a hurry to say, “Don’t blame us for any of this.”
The Cook County treasurer collects property tax payments and mails out the bills but always emphasizes that she is not responsible for those ever-increasing tax bills.
The Cook County assessor may assess your property and determine its “fair market value,” but don’t blame him when your bill arrives in the mail.
In fact, he’s the guy who handles your property tax breaks. There’s the standard homeowner property tax exemption, a senior citizen exemption, a senior tax freeze exemption, a retiring veteran exemption, a disabled veteran exemption and a disabled person exemption.
Everybody who owns a home in Cook County gets a property tax break, so you’ve got to wonder why everyone is so unhappy.
There’s a hint at the core problem in that news release from the revenue department about the final calculation of the equalization factor/multiplier.
By law, all property in Illinois is supposed to be assessed at one-third of its value. But Cook County doesn’t do that.
It has a classification system that places separate value on vacant lots, residential property, apartments, commercial land and industrial property.
Homes, condominiums and apartment buildings of six units or less are assessed at 10 percent of market value, as are vacant lots. Apartment buildings of more than six units are assessed at 13 percent of their value.
Property owned by nonprofit corporations and commercial and industry properties are assessed at 25 percent.
And, oh yes, there’s another designation for commercial or industrial property being developed in economically deprived areas, usually assessed at 10 percent.
You may have noticed that none of these are assessed at one-third of their value, as required by the state.
In fact, all of these types of properties in Cook County combined were assessed at 11.9 percent of their value, according to the state revenue department, or about a third of what they should have been.
That’s why you have to multiply everything by 2.8056 in the county “to achieve uniform property assessment throughout the state.”
In other words, Cook County tries to cheat, so the state is forced to make sure there’s an even playing field.
All the average guy knows is that nothing makes sense to him. The fair market value of his home doesn’t seem to resemble the amount of money he could get if he put it up for sale.
And a guy in a similar house down the street may be paying a lot less in property tax.
Of course, there’s a solution for that. You can appeal your tax assessment to the Cook County Board of Review.
You don’t need a lawyer to do that, county officials will tell you, although somehow entire law firms seem to stay in business by getting lower assessments for their clients.
And if you don’t like the decision by the board of review, you can take your case to the Illinois Property Tax Appeals Board. That’s where large companies often cut millions of dollars off their tax assessments.
But here’s the thing that most people never seem to notice about this entire tax process. As the revenue department says in its news release, “local taxing bodies determine tax bills when they request the dollars needed to provide services to citizens.”
In other words, if a town or school district needs $1 million, it sets its tax levy on property owners within its boundaries that will raise $1 million.
Even if 5,000 of those homeowners have senior exemptions and 10,000 have homestead exemptions and ACME Gunpowder just got a $500,000 break on its tax appeal, the town or school district levy is $1 million.
Someone has to pay it.
By the way, in my list of public officials who want you to know they have nothing to do with the amount on your property tax bill, I forgot to mention state legislators.
They do not assess your property, set a levy or collect the tax payments. But in reality, the Legislature plays a huge role.
You see, even though the Illinois Constitution gives the state a mandate to finance the public schools, the state provides less than 30 percent of the money needed to support public education.
Most of the money for the public school system comes from the property tax — on average more than 60 percent of a homeowner’s tax bill goes to his local school districts.
Municipalities, which get a lot of money from the local sales tax, generally represent around 10 percent of your property tax bill.
If you have any questions about all of this, you could always go to a township assessor.
In Cook County, unlike the rest of the state, the township assessor does not assess anything. So, he or she is not responsible for your tax bill.
It does sometimes seem that the entire purpose of the Cook County property tax system is to create jobs for people who have nothing to do with the tax.

Copyright © 2013 — Sun-Times Media, LLC

Monday, May 06, 2013

Vote ‘No’ on Knox Community Schools’ Property Tax Increase Referendum!
MAY 6, 2013, 12:35 PM
from National Taxpayers United of Illinois by admin
CHICAGO—Taxpayers United of America (TUA) is working with taxpayers in Indiana’s Knox Community School District to oppose the district’s property-tax-increase referendum that will appear on the district’s May 7, 2013 ballot.
“This referendum is a money grab for the bureaucrats of the Knox government schools,” said Jim Tobin, TUA president. “Homeowners are being hit-up for a property tax increase to fund a new building that just isn’t necessary.”
“The average value of a home in Starke County is $99,400, so this referendum, if passed, would increase such a home’s annual real estate tax bill by about $279 every year.”
“It’s amazing that even with the decline in property values, resulting in homeowners losing a significant portion of their assets, the Knox Community School bureaucrats still want a sizeable increase in property taxes to build their work-palace.”
“Eighty-percent of government-school revenues go to salaries and benefits of these government employees for their nine-months-a-year employment. An increase in property taxes will not help students, but it will keep funds available to well-to-do teachers and administrators for their lavish pay and benefits.”
“Taxpayers in Knox Community School district are dealing with 12.3% unemployment- one of the highest in the country. They have also been hit with a 44% increase in their Social Security taxes but these government school bureaucrats want even more. After all, these government bureaucrats have no need to worry about job security or economic strife – they have nearly iron-clad job security with a guaranteed lifestyle that is greater than those in the community they serve.”
‘We urge Knox Community School homeowners to turn out in force for the May 7 election and vote No on the property-tax-increase referendum. You can bet that the government employees will show up to vote in favor of their buddies’ shiny new workplace.”
Click here to download our ‘VOTE NO’ flyer to share with friends and neighbors in the Knox Community Schools district.