Trump seeks more tax breaks on Chicago tower with Ald. Ed Burke’s help

One of Chicago’s most powerful aldermen, Edward M. Burke, has filed yet another lawsuit aiming to win property-tax refunds for the hotel and vacant retail space owned and operated by President Donald Trump in his namesake skyscraper along the Chicago River.

It’s the sixth lawsuit Burke has filed on behalf of Trump, seeking to win millions of dollars in refunds on property taxes collected as far back as 2009 for the Chicago Board of Education, the city of Chicago, Cook County government and other taxing agencies.

One case has been dismissed. Five others are still pending, all arguing that Trump’s tax bills were too high because his hotel and retail space at the Trump International Hotel & Tower is worth far less than Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios and his predecessor, James Houlihan, said it is.

Another case remains before the Illinois Property Tax Appeals Board, which has set a hearing for next month on the 6-year-old matter. Depending on the outcome, Burke and Trump could challenge that decision in court, too.

None of the cases spells out just how much money Burke is seeking for Trump. But documents filed by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office — which defends all lawsuits filed by taxpayers seeking refunds in Cook County — estimate that those refunds could total more than $3 million.

If Burke is successful, Trump would get to withhold the amount of any tax refunds from future property-tax payments. Based on the proportion of tax bills that each government body gets, half of any refunds would come from the Chicago Public Schools, and City Hall would pay 20 percent.

Trump International Hotel & Tower. | Sun-Times files

Trump International Hotel & Tower. | Sun-Times files

The court cases have been dragging on before Cook County Associate Judge Alfred Paul. Lawyers have indicated they are meeting privately in an effort to reach an overall settlement for all of the cases. But the cases have languished because of a reluctance to give Trump any property-tax refunds, a source told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Burke — one of 47 Chicago aldermen who voted to approve development of Trump International Hotel & Tower in 2002 — and his law firm, Klafter & Burke, began representing Trump in 2006. At the time, Trump’s 92-story skyscraper on Wabash north of the river was under construction.

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Neither Burke nor The Trump Organization responded to requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx says, “The state’s attorney has recused herself from all matters with Klafter & Burke. The state’s attorney has never been involved in any discussions regarding these matters at any point.”

Burke and his wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, hosted a political fund-raiser at their Southwest Side home for Foxx in August 2016, months before Foxx was elected state’s attorney.

Most of the Trump cases were filed before Foxx became state’s attorney, but Burke filed the most recent lawsuit on May 31, six months after Foxx took office, putting her in a position to oppose or influence tax refunds a supporter is seeking for his clients.

Ald. Edward Burke, left, with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at the City Club of Chicago in 2015. | AP

Ald. Edward Burke, left, with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at the City Club of Chicago in 2015. | AP

Over the years, Burke has saved Trump more than $14.1 million by persuading the assessor’s office to lower its estimates of the values of the property, resulting in lower tax bills.

And after winning those cuts, the alderman has turned to the courts and the state property-tax appeals board seeking additional tax relief, though he has yet to win any refunds for Trump of taxes already paid.

Burke filed the first Trump lawsuit in 2010, contesting the $2.7 million in property taxes that Trump’s company, 401 N. Wabash Venture, paid the previous year. That case is still pending.

City Hall and the Board of Education, standing to lose the most if Trump wins, filed objections in that case. That prompted Burke to turn the case over to another law firm so the alderman wasn’t fighting City Hall. This is the only time City Hall or the Board of Ed. have objected in any of the Trump cases, leaving the state’s attorney’s office to battle Burke.

“We intervene in cases seeking the 25 to 30 largest reductions from the highest value property in the city, which is often property with an assessed value of more than $8 million,” says Bill McCaffrey, spokesman for the city law department. “In recent years, the cutoff for the top 25 to 30 properties has been in the range of $5 million to $9 million. The city of Chicago intervened in one circuit court case that met our criteria and did not intervene in the other circuit court cases as they do not meet this threshold.”

In 2011, Burke appealed to the state property-tax appeals board, seeking a $6 million cut in Trump’s assessment that would bring a tax refund of more than $1 million.

Burke went to court in 2013 to challenge the $2.5 million in taxes Trump paid the previous year, but the case has been dismissed.

Burke also filed lawsuits each of the following four years. Trump paid about $2.3 million in taxes in each of those years.

The state’s attorney’s office filed paperwork showing that, if Burke is successful on Trump’s behalf in one of those cases, the president could get a refund of $575,432 from local governments.

RELATED: “Chicago Tonight,” WTTW-Channel 11, May 3, 2016

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