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MIHALOPOULOS: Pop tax foe no fan of paying own property taxes on time

Cook County Commissioner Sean M. Morrison at a Cook County board finance committee meeting to vote on repeal of the Sweetened Beverage Tax, Tuesday, October 10th, 2017. File Photo. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Sean Morrison, the Cook County Republican chairman and a county commissioner, gained global attention as the chief sponsor of legislation repealing the county’s notorious tax on pop.

But Morrison got way behind on paying his share of another, much bigger tax.

The property tax bill on his own house.

As of Friday afternoon, Morrison owed more than $5,000 in taxes he was supposed to pay three months and three days ago for his 3,300-square-foot house in Palos Park, according to the county treasurer’s website.

OPINION

An installment of $5,097.27 was due Aug. 1, county records show. He owed that amount, plus another $305.84 in interest because he didn’t pay on time, for a total debt to Cook County of $5,403.11.

Palos Park home of Sean Morrison, Cook County Republican chairman and a county board commissioner. Source: Cook County assessor’s office.

Records show Morrison bought the house, which sits on more than an acre of land, for $715,000 in 2008.

Only one other county commissioner — Democrat Bridget Gainer of Chicago — failed to pony up on time. The rest of the commissioners and Board President Toni Preckwinkle duly paid their property taxes on or before Aug. 1.

Gainer and her husband owed nearly $12,000 in property taxes for the house in the Lake View neighborhood that they bought for $1.2 million in 2013, records show.

Gainer — who, like Morrison, opposed the pop tax from the start — said she thought she and her husband had paid already.

“I’m going to check with the bank now,” Gainer said Friday. “I don’t want that outstanding for the obvious reasons.”

She did pay soon after we spoke.

When I called Morrison, he said he didn’t know he hadn’t paid his property taxes and would check with his secretary. He called back a few minutes later to say the secretary would see that his tax debt got paid right away.

The delay wasn’t the first for Morrison. County records show he’s been late on seven of the last 10 property-tax payments on his house.

And what he owed in property taxes is a pittance compared to the amount Uncle Sam has sought from a company the commissioner is invested in.

Morrison is part of an indoor farming company in Michigan. According to records there, the Internal Revenue Service filed tax liens for a total of $87,368.83 against the company, Green Spirit Farms of New Buffalo, Mich.

“Green Spirit Farms is a passive investment I’m involved with,” he said. “I’m a stockholder, like having stock in Microsoft. I have a lot of Microsoft stock.”

Unlike Microsoft, though, Morrison is on the board of Green Spirit Farms, records show. Still, he said, he should bear no responsibility for the company’s financial issues because he’s not engaged in a day-to-day management role.

“There are people who run the business, and I sit on the board,” he said. “It’s an indebted company and we’re trying to turn that company around and restructure the finances.”

Morrison owns a private security company and filled a vacancy on the County Board, representing the 17th District, starting in 2015. Like Preckwinkle and the rest of the commissioners, he’s up for election next year.

Morrison was one of the few Republican leaders who embraced President Donald Trump even before he was elected.

As for county politics, Morrison helped forge a bipartisan coalition of commissioners to repeal Preckwinkle’s unpopular, penny-an-ounce tax on sweetened beverages.

The tax was approved last year and was expected to generate $200 million a year. But with the election looming, some Democratic commissioners switched sides last month, forming a veto-proof bloc that repealed the tax.

Morrison and Gainer were on the right side on that issue. But because the pop tax fizzled, the county has to fill a big budget hole.

“We can find $200 million,” Morrison said after the repeal vote. “This is a new horizon for Cook County and if we think outside of the box we can come up with things.”

He might want to think inside the box before he starts surveying the horizon.

The vast majority of us across Cook County (yes, including me) pay our property taxes on time.

Morrison and Gainer can help get us all avoid future shortfalls by more promptly coming up with what they personally owe.