Ending the Joe Berrios tax on working families

September 6, 2017

Nearly three months have passed since the Chicago Tribune first published The Tax Divide, which uncovered shocking inequity and institutional racism in Cook County’s property tax assessment process. In these three months, we have seen nothing but lies and obstruction from Assessor Joe Berrios. No transparency. No real commitment to use a better assessment model. No commitment to refund taxpayers who were punished for his mistakes.

Thousands of poor and minority families in Chicago are paying more than they should be legally obligated to pay — a Berrios Tax — as a result of their homes being unfairly over-assessed. This money is going to the pockets of the wealthy — a reverse Robinhood scheme that seems too draconian to be real. But three rigorous studies have shown Cook County’s assessments to be egregiously regressive — including studies by the University of Chicago and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, which Assessor Berrios himself admits is “the most respected of impartial, national, nonprofit real estate/property tax organizations in the United States.”

This is particularly troubling given that Assessor Berrios has accepted millions of dollars in political contributions from property tax attorneys who profit handsomely off this system. The Tribune found that his three campaign funds “raised more than $5 million since 2009, more than half of which came from property tax attorneys and the businesses associated with them.”

The Berrios Tax is not only grossly unfair, but likely illegal and may cost Cook County hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. The system must be fixed immediately to help working families that are already struggling to make ends meet. Let’s be clear: we have enough studies. We need solutions and accountability. Every day spent on another study is another day of inaction that hurts thousands of low-income families, particularly in minority communities, who are being punished with unfair property taxes.

Our Revolution Illinois/Chicago, in partnership with local community organizations, sent a letter to Joe Berrios on August 1, 2017 demanding transparency, efficiency, and fairness.

In addition to making this demand of Assessor Berrios himself, Our Revolution Illinois/Chicago called on Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to immediately begin investigating whether Berrios’ assessment practices violate state or federal laws, including the Civil Rights Act; and on President Toni Preckwinkle and the County Board to step up and put an end to this system that disproportionately burdens working families, especially in minority communities.

Additionally, separate letters were sent to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, City of Chicago Alderman, and Democratic Party of Cook County Committeemen for their support in bringing transparency, accountability, and solutions to the Cook County assessment process.