Chicago politicians, residents getting unfair property tax break - FOX 32 News Chicago

Chicago politicians, residents getting unfair property tax breaks

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

They decide how to spend your hard-earned tax dollars, so why were some Chicago-area politicians getting a break on their taxes they don't deserve? FOX Chicago has obtained a list of hundreds of people who were getting unfair exemptions on their property taxes, and there are some familiar names on that list.

Among them, Steve Landek, who serves both as a state senator and as mayor of Bridgeview. He paid back Cook County $15,990, after it was discovered the Bridgeview home he shares with his mother does not qualify for a senior property tax freeze. He says it was an honest mistake, but he's not alone.

"We have people out there that have taken multiple exemptions, and owe over $70,000. It's a lot of money when you think of it," said Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios.

Berrios provided us with list of all the people who've paid back money from property tax breaks they didn't deserve--more than a half million dollars in just the past two years. Among the names on the list and what they paid back: Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia ($3,975), Stickney Township Supervisor and former State Senator Lou Viverito ($370), State Senator Annazette Collins ($1,670), who lost her bid for re-election, retiring State Representative Rosemary Mulligan ($1,437), and perhaps most surprisingly, Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers, Jr. ($542), whose office decides property tax appeals.

Like the others, Rogers was getting homeowner exemptions on two properties at the same time, including a Hyde Park condo he was renting out. The law only entitles you to one. Like the others, Rogers told us he didn't know he was getting an unfair break, and paid it back when he became aware of it.

"Our hands are tied. Even when someone takes multiple exemptions we have no power to really go after them," Berrios said.

Berrios is pushing a bill in Springfield that would put some teeth into the property exemption law. The bill would allow county assessors to add a 40% penalty when they catch homeowners getting multiple exemptions, and force them to pay back the unwarranted tax break at an interest rate of 18%. Berrios says in Cook County alone the bill would generate $65 million in new revenues per year, and another $103 million statewide.

"Because of these tax cheats we have to pay more than our fair share to make up for it. That's wrong. That's terribly wrong, and we should have a mechanism to go after these people," he said.

The bill passed the Illinois House, but is stalled in the Senate, after opposition from the Illinois Association of Realtors, which says it unfairly penalizes people for honest mistakes.

"We're concerned about the broad net that this would cause and would catch up those unintentional, inadvertent homestead exemptions," said Julie Sullivan, with the Illinois Association of Realtors.

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