Potential governor hopeful Rauner claimed extra exemptions

A suburban venture capitalist who is openly exploring a Republican primary bid for governor improperly claimed three homeowner exemptions for a number of years, a Daily Herald investigation has found.

After being notified of the error Wednesday afternoon, Bruce Rauner on Thursday paid Cook County $1,616 to cover the extra tax savings he received, spokesman Chip Englander said.

Englander described the situation as “an oversight that was corrected immediately.”

County records show Rauner claimed homestead exemptions on a Winnetka home, a Chicago penthouse and a condo on a separate floor but in the same building overlooking Millennium Park. He claimed primary exemptions on the Winnetka property and the Chicago penthouse from 2008 to 2011 and on the second Chicago unit in 2010 and 2011.

By law, Illinois residents can claim the exemption only on the property that is their primary residence, even if married couples are residing in different homes. The exemption reduces the amount of property taxes owed by lowering a property's assessed value.

Rauner purchased the Winnetka home in 1995, the Chicago penthouse in August 2008 and the second unit in November 2008. Since 2008, Rauner has received a total of $4,768 in exemptions on the Winnetka property and a total of $1,616 on the Chicago condominiums, according to Cook County assessor spokeswoman Kelley Quinn. He received $991 in exemptions on the penthouse from 2008 to 2011 and $625 for exemptions on the second condo building in 2010 and 2011.

Englander said Thursday that the Winnetka address is currently Rauner's primary residence.

While claiming more than one exemption at a time is against the law, there is no penalty for those who abuse the system or mistakenly claim additional exemptions. Once discovered, the extra exemption is simply removed, going forward.

Englander, in an emailed statement, wrote that “because the Rauners always pay their taxes on time, Cook County even waived the interest” on the exemption payments.

But Quinn noted that “interest is always waived in these situations,” and not as a result of paying on time.

Legislation is currently pending in the state House that would allow assessors to recover money from homeowners who claimed undeserved exemptions, with interest.

“You have a law that has no teeth, and that needs to be changed,” Quinn said.

Quinn said the assessor's office estimates that Cook County loses approximately $65 million a year because of people taking exemptions to which they're not entitled.

“That means every honest taxpayer is paying about $60 apiece more,” she said.

Rauner, she said, “should be looking at his tax bill. Every homeowner should be looking at their tax bill.”

Rauner earlier this month announced he was forming an exploratory committee for governor.

In a statement, Rauner said that “after spending several months talking with local and national leaders,” he now has entered “a more intense period of consideration of a potential candidacy” that will take about 60 days.

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