George A. Cardenas: 2022 candidate for Cook County Board of Review District 1
Previous offices held: Alderman, 12th Ward
Q: What special knowledge or experience do you have that particularly qualifies you to be on the Board of Review? If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?
A: Taxpayers of the 1st District of the Board of Review deserve a commissioner who is well qualified and will prioritize accuracy and fairness. I have an accounting degree from Northeastern Illinois University and a master's degree in political science from Northeastern Illinois University. I am also a seasoned financial professional, working for many Fortune 500 companies on tax policy, auditing, data mining, and corporate management. Further, I served this country in the United States Navy.
I have also served as a Chicago alderman for 20 years, where I have worked closely on local issues like public safety, education, and economic and workforce development. Currently, I serve as City Council Floor Leader and as Chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy. My ward is on the southwest side of Chicago, a diverse area home to many Latino and Asian immigrants. I will use my unique experience to make the Board of Review work for everyday people.
Q: What changes would you propose in the operation of the Board of Review?
A: As commissioner, I would fight back against unfair assessments by reviewing the assessor's decisions based on the fair market value of each property to ensure homeowners no longer pay a disproportionate share of the property tax burden. I will prioritize acquiring the best market data to improve the accuracy and fairness of all decisions.
In addition, I will work to reduce the Illinois Property Tax Appeals Board (PTAB) backlog related to Cook County, which has increased overhead for the Board of Review. I would also advocate that the board release reports disclosing the methodology used to adjudicate appeals, including assumptions about capitalization rates, vacancy, and other market factors.
Further, I would propose revisions to the ethics ordinance to increase accountability and improve employment practices. I will seek an external review of the allegations that board employees were accepting bribes. And unlike the incumbent, I will pledge not to hire family members.
Q: How do you view the responsibilities of the board and the level of assessments as they apply to commercial and to residential taxpayers? What differences do you see between the two types of taxpayer, and how is, or should be, the Board of Review set up to deal with them appropriately?
A: Cook County must be a livable county, with good-paying jobs that allow individuals to live and raise families here. We need to tax commercial properties competitively but also adequately fund our local governments and schools. I will work to ensure a proper balance when assessing commercial properties.
High-value commercial buildings have historically been underassessed with help from politically connected attorneys. Middle and lower-class families cannot afford these attorneys, so the tax burden shifts from commercial to residential properties. I will not prioritize the well-connected at the expense of everyone else. I will use data, not clout, in determining assessment values.
I also believe that residential properties for seniors should be taxed less. We should make it as easy as possible for seniors to reduce their property tax bills. I will work to educate seniors about the property tax benefits and exemptions they are entitled to.
Q: Describe your position on transparency and customer service at the Board of Review. How easy and convenient is it for average citizens to appeal their taxes? What, if anything, should be done to improve procedures?
A: Fairness, equity, and transparency must be the board's top priorities. As commissioner, I will work relentlessly to implement reforms that make the appeals procedure less complicated for ordinary people. I will bring the board's services directly to taxpayers to achieve these goals. As soon as I take office, I will launch an aggressive outreach program to educate property owners about their right to appeal their assessments. I will have qualified and diverse staff ready to assist taxpayers of all ethnic backgrounds. I will travel throughout the district and hold outreach activities continuously.
Latinos are the largest minority group in Cook County. The 1st District was newly created by the Illinois Legislature to give Latinos a greater voice. My office will proudly serve Spanish-speaking taxpayers. Further, I will ensure that my office can serve Cook County's other sizable immigrant populations, including the Chinese, South Asian, and Polish communities.