32nd Senate District candidates spar over property taxes

Both fight for lower property taxes, but one doesn’t pay them

When it comes to cutting crippling property taxes, the stories 32nd Senate District candidates Craig Wilcox and Mary Mahady tell about how they’d accomplish that goal are similar.

Wilcox, a McHenry Republican, and Mahady, a McHenry Democrat, met with the Northwest Herald Editorial Board on Wednesday for more than an hour to talk about everything from infrastructure to the state’s problem with school funding.

Both Wilcox and Mahady agreed that the state must figure out how to reform the pension system and fund education – the source of 70 percent of property taxes – in order to lighten a McHenry County tax burden forcing droves of residents to flee for affordable homes.

But the most heated portion of Wednesday’s meeting was a spat over the fact that Wilcox, who lives in a McHenry mansion assessed at about $450,000, does not pay property taxes.

He was granted a disabled veterans’ standard homestead exemption. Veterans who have a 70 percent or more service-connected disability are exempt from property taxes, according state law.

The Wilcox narrative attributes the exemption to something that pushed him to get involved in the community.

“We had a benefit that was provided to us due to our service [that] created a burden on the rest of the citizens, and we knew we needed to give back,” Wilcox said. “How have we proven that we’ve done that? Just last month I spearheaded an effort to overturn a resolution on the County Board that was going to finance payment for new radios over a two-year period. $37,000 in savings in interest.”

Wilcox turned his attention to Mahady.

“Now the interesting part, even though I’ve only been here for a short period of time, I have paid more in property taxes than my opposition has since she bought her condo in 2002,” Wilcox said. “So this is not necessarily just about my exemption, it’s about why I am running, why I’m such a taxpayer-fighter advocate and why we know we’re doing this as an obligation to give back, and it’s why we will be the best representative to dig in and fight on their behalf.”

Mahady addressed Wilcox’s charge.

“If someone understands the property tax system, you understand that [with] a $95,000 condo, the tax liability is going to be significantly less than a $450,000 home,” Mahady said, then pointing to the exemptions such as the one Wilcox uses. “Your taxes are going up because the General Assembly keeps passing laws that allow people to pay little to no taxes. When that happens, they have to pay more.”

The disabled veterans’ standard homestead exemption is not based on income, and those who take advantage of the benefit can own a home up to $750,000.

“My opponent is getting a military pension. He’s getting a disability paycheck, he lives in a $450,000 home,” Mahady said. “It’s offensive that we should be paying his property taxes. ... If you’re making enough income to pay your taxes, you should pay them.”

The law must be changed to stop people from abusing it, Mahady said.

“Actually, abusing the law is intentionally rendering your mansion uninhabitable just prior to an appraisal,” Wilcox said, alluding to a report that a Cook County investigator accused Illinois Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker of getting more than $330,000 in property tax breaks through a “scheme to defraud” taxpayers by removing toilets to lower its value. “I hope you’ll be this aggressive with J.B. Pritzker on $300,000-plus in property taxes that were, by all accounts, intently avoided.” 

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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