Comptroller's race highlights property tax issues facing Illinois
A discrepancy between the property taxes of Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza and her predecessor and current Deputy Gov. Leslie Munger has become a sticking point as Illinois faces a government funding crisis.
Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed Munger, a Republican, in 2015 to complete the term of Judy Baar Topinka, who died while in office, according to the Chicago Tribune. A year and a half later, Mendoza, a Democrat, won a special election for the comptroller’s office.
As reported in the Lake County Gazette, Munger pays $14,945 in annual property taxes for her 3,400-square-foot home in Lincolnshire, whereas Mendoza’s 3,500-square-foot home in Portage Park is charged just $5,072 for property taxes each year.
The discrepancy becomes clearer when comparing the tax rates and market values of the homes. According to the Gazette, Munger’s tax rate is 2.3 percent on a home worth $635,441, while Mendoza pays 1 percent in taxes on a home worth $561,391.
What’s striking is the fact that Mendoza can afford such a pricey home after decades on public payrolls. For her most recent role of comptroller, she is paid $135,000 annually, according to Kathleen Murphy, Illinois Opportunity Project's director of communication.
Murphy said Mendoza has collected multiple state-funded pensions during her public service career. In contrast, the Gazette reported Munger has had a two-decade private sector career, during which she “saved and will be paying for her own retirement.” Ballotpedia.org lists Munger’s resume as including jobs with Unilever and McKinsey & Co. Inc.
Murphy called Mendoza a “Chicago Machine Democrat” who worked for the city of Chicago while simultaneously serving in the General Assembly for 10 years.
“Being a political insider in Chicago comes with enormous benefits,” Murphy told Chicago City Wire. “No doubt she knows all the right property tax lawyers.”
As Murphy explained it, law firms reap a windfall in legal fees generated by appeals homeowners file to the assessed values of their property. In turn, those firms often become key donors to the campaigns of candidates for Cook County assessor, commissioners on the Board of Review, judges and state’s attorney.
“Their law firms, of course, know what strings to pull,” Murphy said. “They know the loopholes because they wrote the rules.”
Although Rauner ran in 2014 with a plank of property tax reform, Murphy said he’s had little traction toward keeping those promises.
“Three years later, he has done nothing to reform the state’s corrupt property tax system,” she said. “He is not in charge, and because of that people see their home values being decimated, and in some cases are taxed out of their homes.”