Our philosophical question of the day: Who messes with your property tax bill more? The Democratic Party or tax lawyers?
We’d say the Democratic Party. Led by Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, the party has dominated the property tax assessment and appeals process in Cook for decades — and in ways that leave a stinking suspicion that the powerful and politically connected get special deals.
We endorse Dan Patlak, then, for re-election to the Cook County Board of Review simply because he is a Republican. If he loses, all three commissioners will be Democrats. The board needs a Republican check.
Patlak also has the better professional credentials. He has been a commissioner since 2010, and was an assessment appeals analyst for seven years prior to that. His Democratic opponent, Marty Stack, is a lawyer who has represented clients before the board.
But Patlak has his own baggage, leaving us admittedly unenthusiastic about this endorsement. Of the roughly $545,000 in campaign funds he has raised, more than $300,000 has come from tax lawyers who do business with the Board of Review. For years we have railed against this unholy alliance: commissioners who take money from lawyers who seek favorable treatment from commissioners.
Patlak says he sees no problem with this, so long as every campaign contribution and tax appeal decision is a matter of public record, there for all to see. Sunshine, he says, is the best disinfectant.
Not really. Not in this case. Assessing property values for purposes of taxation is as much an art as a science. There is a great deal of wiggle room, and it can be impossible to know when somebody is getting a special break. What would instill more confidence is a Board of Review that is both politically independent, rather than under Democratic Party hegemony, and prohibited from taking money from tax lawyers.
Follow the party ties or follow the money. Either way, you end up in a dark place. But the greater danger, we believe, is a Board of Review controlled completely by the party of Mike Madigan and Joe Berrios.
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