GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner’s move to prohibit state lawmakers from being involved in the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board is a not-so-subtle dig at his nemesis, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.
We’re interested to see how this will play out — both practically and in terms of election strategy.
A recent executive order, in a very broad sense, bars legislators from benefiting from property tax appeals at the state level. The logic is that many lawmakers are lawyers, some lawyers practice property tax law, and therefore some lawmakers practicing property tax law make money off the system they’re legislating.
It’s a little alarming it took so long for someone to prohibit such a clear conflict of interest.
The Illinois property tax system is so incredibly byzantine that it seems designed to force those appealing to hire lawyers, preferably ones savvy at state rules and players.
As the executive order says: “Conflicts of interest clearly arise where legislators and regulators receive financial benefits by charging Illinois citizens and businesses through a morass of red tape those same officials created by passing complicated rules and establishing confusing and bureaucratic processes.”
Troublesome are the cases like Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, fined $41,000 last month by an ethics board for not giving back campaign contributions from property tax appeals lawyers. Berrios was highlighted in an Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois series that found that a single law firm appealed valuations on more than 4,200 pieces of property between 2011 and 2016. The same firm got $1.7 billion worth of reductions in Cook County.
Madigan & Getzendanner, founded by the speaker in 1972, and “providing legal representation at every stage of the tax assessment appeal process to a wide spectrum of significant properties situated in the Greater Chicagoland area.”
To be sure, Madigan, the longest-serving state House speaker in American history, is not alone in this arena. His Senate counterpart, President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, is a partner at Thompson Coburn, a Chicago law firm with property tax lawyers.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown told the Daily Herald that the speaker recuses himself on “negotiations of all legislative matters relating to work as a property tax appeals attorney.”
Rauner, during a recent editorial board meeting with The Pantagraph, said the ban applies to lawmakers benefiting in any way from decisions in front of the Property Tax Appeal Board. That means even if a partner in the firm is presenting a case, and Rauner said he wants to put similar measures in place at the county and court levels.
How that will work is up for discussion, but it’s a worthy one. We have been supportive of Rauner’s call for property tax reform. We look forward to substantive conversations about meaningful ways to address our state’s out-of-control property taxes.