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The [Wednesday] Papers

By Steve Rhodes

"Mayor Richard Daley on Tuesday tried to offer up a scapegoat for the puzzle of why property tax bills are soaring as home values are plummeting: Cook County Assessor James Houlihan," the Tribune reports.

"As he promoted a modest city tax relief program, Daley also lashed out at the assessor, accusing him of not doing his part to keep a lid on tax bills expected to arrive in mailboxes the next few days.

"'The thing I can't understand (is) this whole assessment deal,' the mayor said. 'Now, no one's value is going up in the city . . . I'm asking him how he does it'."

The mayor was not only playing dumb, as we shall see, but engaging in a deceit designed to protect him politically that will end up only adding to the city's budget woes.

First, do you mean to tell us, Mr. Mayor, that you don't understand how property tax assessments work?

Oh, you do know how they work? Then what part of how Houlihan does his job do you not understand?

You see, Daley understands perfectly.

"Despite the attack, Daley didn't make clear how the assessor could have acted legally to alter the trajectory of the latest round of bills."

In fact, Daley didn't make clear - as far as I can tell from the reporting - just what it is that Houlihan has done wrong.

It's all a smokescreen, and here's why:

"The mayor also did not mention that new bills to Chicago residents reflect a $65 million City Hall property tax increase passed two years ago but that's only showing up now."

It's his tax increase!

"This idea somehow that we're going around jacking up everybody's assessments is just fiction," Houlihan spokesman Eric Herman told the Trib.

Because if that's what Houlihan was doing, you'd think there would be grounds to, oh, I don't know, sue? Prosecute? Something?

Property tax bills, unfortunately, lag; they aren't generated in real-time.

"In many northern suburbs and city neighborhoods, median percentage increases over last year will be in the double digits," the Trib notes. "Some lower-income areas in the city will experience some of the highest percentage spikes. Hardest hit is West Garfield Park, where the median increase of tax bills will top 46 percent.

"How could a neighborhood ravaged by foreclosures during the last year be slapped with such an astounding hike? One big reason is an idiosyncratic tax system where assessments and tax bills lag far behind real time. The latest round of bills actually reflects 2008 taxes. For city neighborhoods, those bills were calculated using assessment values from 2006. That was in the middle of the real estate boom, when investors were sweeping into West Garfield Park, snapping up boarded-up homes and putting them on the market almost immediately. Buyers eager to capitalize on the city's next hot spot then bid up home prices and renovated or sold them again. Home values soared.

"The bubble burst last year, too late to be factored into the tax bills that West Garfield Park homeowners have to pay this year."

"We are legally prohibited from using current market conditions to go back and change assessments for a previous year," Herman told the paper.

Daley surely knows that. But he plays an awfully good game of pretend.

*

It gets worse.

"Chicago homeowners squeezed by rising property tax bills could be in line for cash grants of up to $200, thanks to $35 million worth of property tax relief tied to Mayor Richard Daley's 2010 budget," the Sun-Times reports.

Is this really the time to be sending out $200 checks to homeowners? Wouldn't we be better off applying that $35 million to the city's budget deficit?

Thirty-five million dollars!

Even worse: Daley wants to take that $35 million out of the parking meter lease proceeds. Thanks for giving us some of our money back! Maybe you should have just kept the meters.

And worse yet: Those with household incomes up to $200,000 will be eligible for the $200 checks. Hmmm, I wonder how much the homeless are getting this year.

And even worser: The city will not require you to prove your income. "You have to have faith in people," Daley said. Tell that to your parking enforcement patrol.

And just a reminder: "Bills going out this week are the first to reflect the $83.4 million property tax increase that helped balance Daley's 2008 budget."

*

"The property tax is a very attractive revenue source for local governments because it is not tied to people's ability to pay," Civic Federation President Laurence Msall told the Trib.

Thought it is tied to the (outdated) value of one's property. But ability to pay is really about somebody's income, and that's why a progressive income tax is always the best, steadiest and most economically rational way to go.

*

Similarly: "Obama wants seniors to get another $250."

The White House estimates the plan would cost $13 billion over 10 years.

It's only "a classic Washington gimmick" when somebody else does it.

Calling Out Carol
The next time Sun-Times sports columnist Carol Slezak asks an athlete a question, I hope he or she decides to let their game speak for itself.

*

And only civilians "decline" to comment. Public figures refuse.

Burke Smirk
State Rep. Dan Burke - the brother of Ald. Ed Burke - is facing his first opponent in 19 years. Wow. Dan Burke must be really good. I wonder why we don't hear more about him.

Boys Clubs
I dunno, wouldn't you feel like you were at a disadvantage if your boss had regular social get-togethers with colleagues to which you weren't invited? I've heard reporters and editors in this town grouse (and rightly so) about just that.

*

Let's pretend there were a dozen people on the Sun-Times editorial board. Let's say nine men and three women. And the editorial page editor was a man, as was his deputy. And the most influential voices in that room were male. Now, let's say that the editor had weekly basketball games with some of the other men on the board. If you were a woman, would you feel shut out? Would you wonder what the boys talked about during their games? Would you feel a bit alienated from their lockerroom camraderie in the workplace? It's far from "bunk," Mr. President.

A Race Card Played Right
Defending Bobbie Steele.

School Closings Don't Work
Most kids just sent to other crappy schools.

Budget Play Opens
Scripts ready to go.

Missing Ben Gordon
George Ofman says the Bulls will be sorry.

Whither Forte
Beachwood fantasy sports expert Dan O'Shea explains why you should keep him.

-

The Beachwood Tip Line: Sweet relief.



Permalink

Posted on October 28, 2009


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