The Cook County Tax Assessors Office has drawn the attention of candidates running for Illinois governor with at least one, Democrat Chris Kennedy, calling for Berrios to step down. It’s a sticky situation for Democrats who’ve been egregiously quiet. Did I mention Berrios is chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party with endless connections and a sizable war chest? That buys a lot of silence, apparently.
It shouldn’t. The nine lives of Berrios are up. Two opponents, Andrea Raila of Chicago and Frederick “Fritz” Kaegi of Oak Park, filed paperwork to run against him in the March 20 primary. Democratic voters ought to give them a long, hard look.
And curiously what is with Berrios, the current Assessor’s, assessment process, even in cases where building owners’ initial assessments remained unchanged from one cycle to the next, the majority of them appealed their assessments anyway. Some 74 percent of the appeals won lower assessments, only to have them revert back to the exact same number in the next cycle.
That boomerang activity feeds a cottage industry of property tax lawyers and their interests. Property owners get a reduction, only to have their assessments bounce back up, encouraging them to hire lawyers, again, to bring the numbers back down. That boomerang also feeds Berrios’ campaign account, which is flush with donations from attorneys who appear before his office, seeking tax breaks.
Berrios says he encourages, and makes it easy for, all property owners to appeal their property assessments. That’s his response to criticism. Appeal your valuation. But that’s a deeply inefficient, unsatisfying, flawed and reactionary posture. The frothy churn of appeals, reassessments and re-reassessments is good for the attorneys — and for Berrios. Instead, he should be getting it right, or more right, the first time.
Berrios is one of the many unapologetic Illinois pols who benefit from Stockholm syndrome. Voters who pay attention understand that his assessment system is unfair. They know the beneficiaries of a confusing and broken process are some of this state’s political elites, including House Speaker Michael Madigan and Chicago Ald. Ed Burke, who run property tax-focused law firms on the side. Yet those same voters keep electing Berrios.
Thanks to these investigations, voters have data to back up their suspicions about Berrios’ operation. This is no longer an anecdotal debate.
So, Cook County: Can you shake yourself out of a Stockholm stupor? You’re being duped. There are numbers to prove it. You can demand change on March 20.