Maria Pappas's legacy—your property tax bill

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Maria Pappas, 2009
As soon as I stopped crying over the 20 percent hike in my property tax bill, I gave Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas a call.

I wasn't calling to moan about that 20 percent hike, though I may have mentioned it to her once or twice. I know the rising bills are not her fault—she's only the messenger, as it's her office that mails them out.

Instead, I was calling with a suggestion about the information the bill contained.

As some of you geeks out there may have read in the paper—and let's face it, this is the sort of news that generally only geeks pay attention to—the first installment of your property tax bill used to only tell you what you owed.

Like the $4,700 or so it said I owed, which is 20 percent than I owed the last time around, as I may have already mentioned.

By the way, one of the great mysteries of physics is that my taxes keep going up, up, up, even though Mayor Emanuel—like Mayor Daley before him—claims he’s holding them down, down, down.

For this bill, Pappas added additional information such as the total debt the city, county and schools owe. So thanks to this year's bill, I now know that the city of Chicago has about $33 billion in debt, with all its unfunded pension payments and everything.

Making me feel even more miserable about the state of things than I already felt.

When I got Pappas on the phone, I urged her to run for mayor against Mayor Emanuel in 2015. I pretty much urge everyone to do that—even some of the guys in my bowling league. Hell, just about anyone—including a few of the raging alcoholics in my bowling league—could do as good a job as Mayor Rahm without being so nasty about it.

Pappas said she was happy where she was, thank you very much. And then she explained why she added the info to the bill.

"My purpose is to let you know what the true cost of owning property is," she said. "You have a credit card along with the mortgage. If you leave your house to your children, are they going to be able to afford to live there? Wake up and look at the credit card that is your property tax. This is a real wake-up call. This property tax is like an economic tsunami."

She also said she plans to add more information as the years go on. "This will be my legacy," she said. "It's very popular.”

At which point, I got to the real message of my call. If you're going to put more info on the bill, add some stuff about the TIFs.

That's the Tax Increment Financing program, AKA our mayor's favorite $453 million-a-year slush fund.

As you know, adding the TIF take to the tax bill has been a pet project of my since like forever. Right up there with building some indoor running tracks and adding art, music, drama and dance for our public school kids we claim to care so much about.

Every year, the TIFs jack up the amount you pay in taxes for schools and parks and other stuff. And then divert hundreds of millions of dollars to the mayor slush fund.

To give one example, we, the taxpayers of Chicago, paid about $2.4 billion last year in property taxes to the Chicago's Public Schools. Of which roughly $235 million got diverted to the TIFs. So the taxpaying dummies of Chicago allowed their mayor to divert almost ten percent of their school tax dollars to his slush fund.

Now that's a sentence I'd love to see on next year's tax bill.

Pappas promised to do what she can for the cause. "If I have it, I'll put it on," she said. "If I can do it, I'll do it."

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