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Rep. McDermed: Madigan makes millions in conflict of interest with taxpayers and Chicago schools

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016 1:38 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016 3:15 p.m. CDT

Chicago homeowners are getting crushed by huge tax hikes. Many now find their property tax bills to be higher than their home mortgages payments.

Across Illinois, we have the highest property taxes in the country, with our average property tax bill nearly double the national average. Our tax policies have been set by House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) and the Democratic legislative majority he has controlled in Springfield for more than 30 years.

Madigan said in a 1986 interview with Chicago Magazine that “Political people are driven by certain interests, quite often a personal self-interest.”

No surprise then that Madigan owns a law firm in the property tax appeals business. Madigan calls owners of large commercial properties around Chicago to retain his law firm to get their property taxes reduced through an appeals process. Madigan makes his money by appealing high taxes, negotiating reductions, and taking a percentage of the cut. Who does he negotiate with? Cook County Assessor and Cook County Democratic Chairman Joe Berrios, who just happens to be an underling to State Democratic Party Chairman Mike Madigan. What a conveniently rigged arrangement.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Madigan’s law firm scored $58 million in tax cuts for well-connected Chicago and suburban Cook County property owners from 2003 to 2013. Madigan saved the Citicorp Center at 500 W. Madison $3.4 million and cut the Prudential Plaza taxes about $6 million.

Madigan is not alone in this rigged appeals game. Long-serving Chicago Alderman Ed Burke is also in the business of property tax appeals. He famously saved Donald Trump $7 million in property taxes on the Trump Tower.

Chicago Public Schools desperately need that money to pay their teachers. So where does CPS turn to to pick up the tens of millions that Madigan and Burke take from the Chicago tax base? To pay for schools and local government, the cost has to shift to other property owners – to you, your neighbors, to working families and small store owners around the city.

Madigan and Burke make millions from a property tax appeals scheme that’s rigged to lower property tax payments for downtown Chicago office buildings, while raising property taxes to record levels for homeowners and small businesses across Cook County. Insiders and wealthy office owners pay less in taxes; Madigan, Burke and others become millionaires; and Chicago area homeowners? They are cut out of this sweetheart deal and forced to pay higher property taxes.

Fair? Hardly. It’s a fundamental conflict of interest. And yet voters continue to elect Madigan and Burke to office.

To fix this rigged system, we need term limits and a true property tax freeze, not one of the fake proposals Madigan recently put to a vote in Springfield. He manipulated sham votes to claim the mantle of wanting a property tax freeze, all the while ensuring the tax appeals game and higher property taxes continue unchanged.

An honest property tax freeze prevents increases that then get appealed. It shuts down the game and relieves the crushing pressure on Chicago property taxpayers.

To bring true property tax relief to our homeowners and small businesses, we need a freeze, combined with elimination of mandates from Madigan’s Democratic Party majority in Springfield that force schools and local governments to spend more. We need to take control of government costs away from Mike Madigan, and give that power to the people of Illinois instead. Term limits and local control are the key to fix our property tax problem, and end once and for all the conflict of interest between our powerful politicians and our taxpayers.

• Rep. Margo McDermed of Mokena is a Republican member of the Illinois House representing the 37th District.

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