EDITORIAL: Going after Joe Berrios is good politics — and good for you

SHARE EDITORIAL: Going after Joe Berrios is good politics — and good for you

Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios defends the county’s property assessment system at a press conference outside his office in July. | Rich Hein/ Sun-Times

Bruce Rauner said Monday that Joe Berrios should resign. Nothing new there.

The governor has been bashing the Cook County assessor since he first jumped into politics four years ago.

Rauner’s primary-election opponent for re-election, Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton, wants Berrios gone, too. No surprise there, either.

But then there’s this:

Last week, Chris Kennedy, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, also called on Berrios to step down. That puts Kennedy at odds with some powerful people, Berrios included, in his own party.

In all three cases — Rauner, Ives and Kennedy — what’s going on is pure politics. Each of them has made a calculation that attacking Berrios is a way to win votes.

But it is also, we would like to stress, excellent public policy. Keep it up!


Berrios runs the assessor’s office in a hinky way that is terrific for people with money and clout, but not so great for the rest of us. This cannot be said enough.

The assessor oversees a secretive, complicated property tax assessment system that pits ordinary citizens against the wealthiest commercial property owners in town. A small club of tax lawyers score most of the biggest tax breaks and shower campaign money on Berrios and his allies.

We have described before, in particular, an unholy alliance between Berrios and various big-name Democratic politicians who also are tax lawyers.

Consider, for example, that Berrios also runs the Cook County Democratic Party while Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan runs the state Democratic Party. At the same time, Madigan runs a law firm that brings tax appeal cases to Berrios’ office, even as Berrios — follow us here — goes to Springfield as a paid lobbyist looking for help for clients.

It’s all very chummy.

More recently, the Chicago Tribune and Pro Publica reported that property assessments by Berrios’ office are riddled with errors. In many cases, tax bills had not changed from one reassessment to the next, though they should rise and fall with property values. Some wealthy, politically connected property got their assessments lowered to significantly below market value.

When that happens, other property owners are hit with higher taxes to make up the difference.

Berrios didn’t invent Cook County’s arcane system of property taxes. But he’s done little to nothing to fix it since he took office in 2010. Instead, he has spent his days putting relatives on the payroll and fighting ill-considered legal battles with the Cook County inspector general’s office and the Cook County Ethics Board.

If going after Joe Berrios is politics, it’s politics of the best kind.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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