Pritzker’s Gold Coast mansion not the only problem with property taxes

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Living room of the Gold Coast mansion now deemed “uninhabitable,” as seen in real estate listing prior to the home’s purchase by J.B. Pritzker.

J.B. Pritzker got the property taxes on a Gold Coast building he owns reduced by $230,000 by claiming it is uninhabitable. The billionaire Democratic candidate for governor has thus become the poster boy for a confusing tax system designed to benefit the wealthy while punishing the middle-class, working poor, elderly and school children.

Instead of being ridiculed for taking advantage of a tax appeals process that has made connected lawyers wealthy, I think Pritzker should be applauded for shining a spotlight on a process that should have inspired a citizen revolt long ago.


It’s a bi-partisan success story, a Frankenstein monster patched together in Springfield by Republicans and Democrats.

It’s laughable that today Gov. Bruce Rauner is calling for a property tax freeze, a popular request since Illinois has the highest property tax rates in the nation.

How did this happen? Because unlike every other state, Illinois has chosen to make your homes and local shops the primary funding source for public education. About two of every three dollars to finance schools comes from property taxes.

The state of Illinois pays only 25 percent of the education tab.

This allows our elected officials to use your income tax money for other purposes. Just as governors and state legislators failed to make payments into the state pension systems, they failed to meet our state’s constitutional obligation to fund the schools.

So today we have a $110 billion unpaid pension debt and nearly $14 billion in unpaid bills in Springfield and instead of addressing the real issues the governor calls for a property tax freeze.

The state gets no money from property taxes. So a property tax freeze would do nothing to solve its financial problem.

In fact, the call for a property tax freeze ought to remind people why the state relies so heavily on the property tax system to fund education. It allows these public officials to shirk their obligation to adequately fund the schools, pretend they are not responsible for skyrocketing property taxes and then condemn the very system they created.

On top of that, there are annual tax assessments that most folks don’t understand, befuddling triennial tax reassessments, special property tax breaks for seniors, veterans and every home owner – just to make us all feel special as we are getting our pockets picked.

Every time someone gets a tax break, the responsibility for paying those taxes is shifted to someone else because the amount of the tax levy (the actual money needed to run a school system) remains the same.

There’s also the property tax appeals process. Lawyers actually specialize in this because they can make lots of money by claiming a big business is overtaxed, or that someone like Pritzker ought to get a tax break for making his mansion uninhabitable.

There’s more.

Cook County, unlike every other county, has a property tax classification system. Everywhere else in the state, all property is valued at 33.3 percent of its fair cash value. But Cook County has all sorts of different classifications, and the state decided long ago that Cook County was trying to cheat the system and so declared that a special multiplier had to be added to make sure property was valued at 33.3 percent.

Did I mention PTELL? Of course not because you really don’t want to hear about a process that sort of caps property tax increases, but really doesn’t, but was another political gimmick.

Average folks don’t have time to study and understand all of this stuff.

If Democrats really cared about ordinary working stiffs, as they claim, they could have straightened this mess out long ago. Instead, they created a tax system that punishes school children for living in poor areas, rewards billionaires and confounds ordinary people who just want a square deal.


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