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Phil Kadner on Cook County

You can’t invent a property tax system more discriminatory than in Cook County

Homeowners in poor south suburbs, such as Riverdale, where this home is located, pay far more in property taxes than homeowners in wealthy north suburbs. | File photo, Cook County assessor’s office

If you were going to invent a tax system designed to hit poor, minority communities the hardest, you couldn’t do better than the property tax system in Illinois and Cook County.

Figures released last week by Cook County Clerk David Orr reveal that the suburbs of Ford Heights (33.99 percent), Park Forest (33.6 percent) and Riverdale (28.7 percent) have the highest average tax rates in Cook County. This is nothing new.

These are poor south suburban communities that have been economically ravished for decades by the property tax structure of this state.

The lowest composite tax rates in Cook County are in Hinsdale (6.5 percent), Burr Ridge (6.8 percent) and Barrington (7.2 percent), according to the Cook County clerk.

The tax rate in Chicago on residential homes is 7.2 percent, according to Orr’s office. The average tax rate in the north suburbs is 9.3 percent. The average in the south suburbs: 11.9 percent, actually a decrease from previous years.

The average tax bill on a single-family home increased 4.78 percent in the south suburbs (an increase of $247), 3 percent in the north suburbs ($213) and 2.75 percent in Chicago ($109), where there has been a lot of squawking about property tax increases.

Many south suburbs have been devastated by the property tax system over the past 30 years.

The reason for this is that Chicago has a large business and commercial base that pays a whopping property tax bill, while the poorest south suburbs have very little in the way of commercial property.

Much of that commercial base has moved to northwest Indiana.

All anyone has to do is drive through Chicago Heights and Ford Heights, which are economic wastelands, and into northwest Indiana to witness the development boom that has taken place. Businesses in the south suburbs have been hit with such a heavy property tax burden that they can no longer afford to remain open in Cook County.

You would be hard pressed to find an Illinois politician who would deny any of this. Whenever I talk to them about the situation they nod their heads sadly and say something like, “It is indeed terrible,” “Awful,” “Very unfair.”

It’s a system created by the politicians who run this state, the governors and state legislators, who for decades refused to adequately fund public education. Property taxes pay for about 67 percent of the school bill in Illinois.

The wealthy north and west suburbs not only had substantial commercial property, but residents there own more expensive homes and that results in more money for the schools even at the reduced tax rate.

The people who lived in those suburbs often complain whenever someone talks about tax reform, meaning increasing income taxes to pay for education.

Spending more money on those poor, minority kids isn’t going to help them, these people have said.

That’s coming from people who lived in school districts that were spending thousands of dollars more per student than poorer districts in the south suburbs.

This past year, the state Legislature finally passed a bill that would give some of the state’s poorer communities, including those in the south suburbs, more state funding for their schools.

And Gov. Bruce Rauner deserves credit for focusing on the fact that Illinois has the most unfair property tax system in the nation, a fact most governors tried to downplay.

But the property tax system remains a key factor in the economic disparity between the wealthy suburbs and those that are poor. David Orr, who will be leaving office soon, deserves recognition for compiling the property tax statistics to support what many observers have known for years.

The property tax system is unfair and racially discriminatory.