Quit pro quo: Rauner and Berrios each says other has to go

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Top row, left to right: House Speaker Mike Madigan, J.B. Pritzker and Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios. Bottom row, left to right, Gov. Bruce Rauner, Stuart Levine, President Donald Trump. File photos by AP/Seth Perlman, Sun-Times/Max Herman, Sun-Tmes/Ashlee Rezin, Sun-Times/Rich Hein, Sun-Times/John H. White, AP/Evan Vucci.

Gov. Bruce Rauner demandedMondaythat Democrat Joe Berrios step down, calling the longtime Cook County assessor — along with Rauner enemies J.B. Pritzker and House Speaker Mike Madigan — part of “the unholy trinity of collusion, corruption, conflicts of interest in our property tax system.”

Berrios’ campaign, in turn, fought back, saying Rauner should “do the people of Illinois a favor – he should admit that he has failed as governor and resign.”

Property taxes were ostensibly the issue, but both sides seemed more interested in dragging in other personalities to complicate the debate – everyone from President Donald Trump to disgraced political insider Stu Levine.

Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios.

Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy last week was the first to call for Berrios’ resignation, calling the system a “property tax racket.” The outcry came after a series of reports by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune on problems with the assessor and the property tax system.

Most recently, theTribune and ProPublica revealed that Berrios’ office failed to assess thousands of properties.

“This system has to change, and it’s got to start with the resignation of Joe Berrios. Joe has to go,” Rauner said. “He is a core feeder of this rigged corrupt system. Joe Berrios, Mike Madigan and J.B. Pritzker are the unholy trinity of collusion, corruption, conflicts of interest in our property tax system.”

Rauner said the system is “rigged,” and hurting the middle class.

“He has his puppet, Joe Berrios, do his bidding on property tax assessments, and it’s all to benefit political insiders like [the] Pritzkers who saved themselves hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars through the rigged system, all of which hurt the middle class in the state of Illinois and here in Cook County,” Rauner said.

Gov. Bruce Rauner calling for the resignation of Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios while in the backyard of the Wheeling home of Marianne Murphy — a Rauner appointee to the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board on Dec. 11, 2017. | Tina Sfond

Gov. Bruce Rauner calling for the resignation of Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios while in the backyard of the Wheeling home of Marianne Murphy — a Rauner appointee to the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board on Dec. 11, 2017. | Tina Sfondeles for the Sun-Times

Rauner’s example of a high property tax home, however, was a little unusual. The Wheeling home where the governor held Monday’s news conference is owned by Marianne Murphy — a Rauner appointee to the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board.Murphy was appointed in December 2016, and her term expires in July 2019.

Murphy is also on ALEC’s Private Enterprise Advisory Council, serving as its first vice chair, according to her bio. The American Legislative Exchange Council is an ultra-conservative group created to influence state lawmakers. Goals of the group include privatizing public education, cutting taxes and cutting public employee compensation. The group also opposes Obamacare.

The Rauner campaign said Murphy’s appointment was to an unpaid, volunteer board, which was approved by the Illinois Senate.

Rauner — who last week tried to throw Pritzker under the bus over taxes — said the property tax system is “orchestrated by Mike Madigan.” The governor has focused his campaign fodder squarely on Pritzker instead of on his own Republican challenger, state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton. Ives on Monday said the governor “is late to the game.”

“His call for Berrios to step down is little more than political convenience,” Ives said in a statement, saying she filed for legislation for a property tax task force in February and alleges Democrats blocked it and the Rauner administration “ignored” her request to enact it via an executive order.

Berrios’ campaign manager Mario Lopez called the governor’s event a “blatant political stunt.”

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“This attack is coming from a governor who just last week complained about being ‘not in charge’ of the state. Like Donald Trump, Bruce Rauner relies on blatant political stunts in a bid to save his failing administration and re-election bid,” Lopez said in a statement, while also blaming him for dedicating “his tenure to attacking working families, women and children.”

Lopez said Berrios “has taken charge and focused on improving the assessment system he inherited by making it fair and equitable for every Cook County resident.”

The Pritzker campaign called Monday’s event a distraction without commenting on Berrios. Last week Pritzker was also mum about whether he believes Berrios should resign.

Chicago Sun-Times investigation earlier this year found that Pritzker saved $230,000 in property tax breaks last year by leaving his Gold Coast mansion in disrepair.

“As I’ve stated, we need to reform our flawed and inequitable property tax system,” Pritzker said in a statement last week. “But I’m not here to score political points by attacking other Democrats. That’s what my opponents are doing when we should be focused on defeating Bruce Rauner. The voters will ultimately decide if Mr. Berrios deserves another term.”

On Monday, the Pritzker campaign said Rauner “should focus on getting his own house in order instead of distracting from his own failings.”

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown reacted to the speaker being grouped in an “unholy” trifecta by dredging up a Rod Blagojevich-era controversy involving Levine, who was on the payroll of a company Rauner’s former venture capital firm partially owned. Levine was making money at the same time that Rauner’s company was soliciting business from the Teachers’ Retirement System of Illinois, which counted Levine as one of its trustees.

“It seems to me that the guy who paid Stu Levine, a longtime bagman for both Republicans and Democrats probably shouldn’t be the one calling names,” Brown said.


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