Lawmaker: Rising property taxes in Madigan's financial interest
The Illinois House will elect a new House speaker in January.
While few discuss it, the primary candidate remains Mike Madigan (D-Chicago), who has held the position for 31 of his 45 years in the House. When asked about the speaker position, Democratic often legislators waffle without answering the question, but they probably know who they think will win.
"I don't know what the options will be," state Rep.-elect Katie Stuart (D-Glen Carbon) told the News-Gazette recently. "You're asking me a hypothetical question just like I wouldn't tell you how I would vote on any piece of legislation until I actually read the legislation."
Madigan remains firmly entrenched in the Illinois House, in control of the House rules and its committees. With that power, Madigan will continue to determine what bills will go to committee and which will reach the House floor for a vote.
The Assembly is facing a new budget battle in the coming months as the stopgap budget is due to expire at the end of December. With Madigan in charge, the budget impasse is likely to continue, with Gov. Bruce Rauner seeking a balanced budget, term limits and other reforms, as well as property tax freezes.
Madigan has no reason to encourage property tax freezes. As state Rep. Margo McDermed (R-Mokena) said in an op-ed piece in the Northwest Herald, Madigan's law firm makes millions in property tax appeals for commercial properties.
"Madigan makes his money from appealed high taxes, negotiating reductions and taking a percentage of the cut," McDermed told the Northwest Herald. "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."
While Madigan's firm saved the Citicorp Center $3.4 million and Prudential Plaza approximately $6 million, the average homeowner's property taxes keep rising. Illinois residents pay among the highest property taxes in the nation, second only to New Jersey.
Madigan himself told Chicago Magazine in 1986 that politicians are often driven by personal self-interest. He and Chicago Alderman Ed Burke both profit from property tax appeals, which shift the tax burden from downtown Chicago office buildings to homeowners.
To outsiders, Madigan's connection to the current property tax system smacks of a fundamental conflict of interest. He controls property taxes from inside the Assembly, then profits from appeals of those same taxes. The Illinois News Network said Madigan's firm earned nearly $10 million between April 2013 and April 2014.
While any homeowner can appeal a property's valuation, the process is complicated. The appeal must include assessments of five similar properties in the neighborhood or an estimate from an outside appraiser. Despite the paperwork, more than 400,000 appeals were filed in 2013 with the Cook County Board of Review and nearly two-thirds were approved. Homeowners who hired attorneys to file appeals paid 25 to 50 percent of the "winnings" to the lawyer. Those who did not appeal their property valuations paid more than their fair share to the government.
In her op-ed piece, McDermed called for changes in the Assembly, including term limits to end Madigan's reign and a property tax freeze to ease the crushing load of taxes on Illinois homeowners.
"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," McDermed told the Northwest Herald. "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."