Rauner says he'll order state lawmakers to stop handling tax appeals

 
By Christopher Hacker
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 1/19/2018 12:37 PM
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  • Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner told a crowd in the South suburbs he will work to stop the practice of state lawmakers representing homeowners who want to appeal their property taxes.

    Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner told a crowd in the South suburbs he will work to stop the practice of state lawmakers representing homeowners who want to appeal their property taxes. associated press, 2017

This story has been updated to remove a clause saying Gov. Rauner's executive order would not apply to cases in Cook County.

Gov. Bruce Rauner called on legislators to prevent state lawmakers from receiving income from property tax appeals, promising an executive order to fix what he called the "unfair property tax system in the state of Illinois."

At an event at the South suburban Country Club Hills city hall Thursday, Rauner heard Illinois residents who complained of exorbitant property taxes that cause many to struggle to remain in their homes.

Rauner said cutting property taxes is key to bringing people and businesses back to Illinois, which has seen its population fall by more than 33,000 residents in 2017. It is now the sixth-largest state in the country -- down from its previous spot at number five -- and Illinoisans often blame property taxes for forcing them to leave the state.

Under current rules, state lawmakers are allowed to represent individuals before the Illinois Property Tax Appeals Board, which oversees complaints about property tax assessments outside Cook County. Rauner argued this policy discourages legislators from changing the process, and he vowed to issue an executive order directing the appeals board to end the practice.

Legislators are already barred from representing individuals before the Court of Claims and the Workers' Compensation Commission. Rauner's proposal would broaden restrictions to include the Property Tax Appeals Board and local government bodies.

"Our system is broken because it's full of conflicts of interest, corruption [and] abuse," Rauner said. "Our system in Cook County is rigged against taxpayers and homeowners, and it's discriminatory -- it hurts families in the South suburbs disproportionately."

Citing his administration's previous work to support property tax reform, Rauner said keeping lawmakers from acting as property tax lawyers is the first step toward fixing property taxes in Illinois, which are among the highest in the nation.

Rauner also recommended other steps to reduce Illinois' property taxes.

He called on Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios to resign, saying he has repeatedly overvalued homes and businesses in Cook County. Rauner said homeowners are forced to hire attorneys who benefit from the number of property tax complaints, contributing to a cycle of unfair tax increases.

A recent investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois revealed that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's tax appeal law firm, Madigan & Getzendanner, has made appeals on more than $8 billion in assessed property values since Berrios took office in 2010, earning Madigan millions.

Rauner also said he plans to introduce legislation to make it a crime for members of Illinois' General Assembly to make money from property tax appeals.

"No one who has an influence to increase taxes, on one hand, should be in a position where they financially benefit from fighting about property taxes and trying to get them reduced on the other hand," Rauner said.

Finally, Rauner promised again to introduce a bill that would allow residents to freeze or lower property taxes through voter referendums.

"We have the third-highest property tax burden in the U.S., and more mortgages under water due to crushing taxes than in 48 other states," Rauner said. "Illinois has too many terrific assets -- a tremendous workforce, world-class educational institutions and an unparalleled transportation hub, to name a few -- to allow high taxes to continue to drain our economy."

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