My property tax bill is defective—I want a refund! | On Politics | Chicago Reader

Columns & Opinion » On Politics

My property tax bill is defective—I want a refund!

A few ways the city, county, and schools could save millions of our dollars


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


In honor of the demonstrations that have been sweeping this and other cities, I'm going to take a moment to protest my property tax bill.

I've got property taxes on my mind because I just paid $4,601. That's the first of two annual installments, for all you renters out there who have never experienced the thrill of directly paying a property tax bill.

I say directly because you renters indirectly pay property taxes every year after your landlord includes the cost in the form of higher rents. There's no dodging the tax man, my friends.

Back to my bill . . .

As I said, it's the first of two installments. So when all is said and done I'll be paying more than $9,200 for the joy of owning a house in Chicago. Oh, lucky me.

This installment's up $285 from the one I paid last year.

What's that? You're wondering how my bill can go up when Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised to hold the line on property taxes?

For that matter, how could last year's first installment have gone up $712 over the one before, when Mayor Richard M. Daley—remember him?—made the same promise?

Well, let me be the one to break the bad news: when it comes to property taxes, mayors never keep their promises. As a general practice, I wouldn't believe any promise that any mayor makes about anything—and especially property taxes.

No disrespect to Mayor Emanuel. Or Mayor Daley.

But it is true that I'm from the left side of the Democratic Party. As opposed to Mayor Emanuel, who appears to be from the left side of the Republican Party. He'd probably be running a close third behind Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum if he just came right out and officially joined the GOP.

But my property tax bill brings out the inner Tea Partier in me as I realize how much of the money I pay gets wasted on stupid stuff that no ordinary Chicagoan really needs.

Like the G8 and NATO summits, to cite just one example.

So this year, I'm going to highlight just a little of the waste and demand a refund.

I'll start with the TIF program, as in tax increment financing. That's the shadow program that raises the amount we pay in property taxes by about $500 million a year, even as the mayor tells you it doesn't. And the $500 million gets deposited into bank accounts largely controlled by the mayor.

I warned you not to believe anything the mayor says about property taxes.

When the Tribune editorial board is forced to write about TIFs—and they usually only do so at gunpoint—they usually say something like: "Critics call this a slush fund." As if they haven't made up their minds on the matter. Hey, take your time, people—the program's only about 30 years old.

A few years ago, Congressman Mike Quigley, then a crusading Cook County Commissioner, estimated that TIFs add about four percent a year to the average property tax bill.

Four percent may not sound like much, but you know how it goes—four percent here, four percent there, and soon you're talking real money.

Next I'll move over to the Chicago Public Schools, which consumes roughly 52 percent of everyone's property taxes.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't complain. I'm a big fan of public education. I think we should spend more on on it. But I've decided that in good conscience I can no longer justify spending another dime on the Chicago Board of Education.

That's the seven-person body appointed by Mayor Emanuel to do whatever Mayor Emanuel wants.

As I've explained before, the mayor carefully vets potential appointees to make sure he never picks anyone with even a scintilla of an independent thought.

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

Add a comment