Cook County’s Property Tax Assessment (A Process Convoluted by Design)

Two of the nation’s conservative think tanks, the Tax Foundation and the Illinois Policy Institute, have recently reported the details of the property tax burden shouldered by Illinois taxpayers.

In an article titled, “How High Are Property Taxes in Your State?” the Tax Foundation’s Jared Walczak notes the variety of ways property taxes are assessed in the different states, and then “cuts through this clutter” in a report and map, “presenting effective tax rates on owner-occupied housing.”

This is the average amount of residential property tax actually paid, expressed as a percentage of home value. Some states with high property taxes, like New Hampshire and Texas, rely heavily on property taxes in lieu of other major tax categories; others, like New Jersey and Illinois, impose high property taxes alongside high rates in the other major tax categories.

New Jersey has the highest effective rate at 2.38% and is followed closely by Illinois (2.32%), New Hampshire (2.15%), and Connecticut (1.98%).

The Illinois Policy Institute’s Austin Berg examined “the politicians getting rich off Chicago’s property-tax scheme”:

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Chicago Alderman Ed Burke both run law firms specializing in the lucrative field of Cook County property-tax appeals, one of the most inefficient, corrupt systems in urban politics. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton is a member of a large law firm that handles a range of issues, including property-tax law. The three have held political office in Illinois for a combined 126 years.

“The property-tax-assessment process in Cook County,” Berg writes, “is convoluted by design.”

In simple terms, the Assessor’s Office “assesses the value of every property in the county. […] Property owners can then appeal that assessed value in a number of ways. […] Flawed property valuations and the process required to fix them are a cash cow for law firms, including those of Madigan, Burke and Cullerton, which know what strings to pull.

What doesn’t add up is nearly two-thirds of those appeals were successful: an astonishing number that reveal a faulty assessment process ripe for savvy attorneys. Any way you slice it, taxpayers lose.

Image credit: Wikipedia.