COOK COUNTY - Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios was reprimanded by the Sun Times for giving one of his daughters a $10,000 year raise while requiring 12 days of furlough from the rest of his non-family member staff. Berrios -- who is also the Cook County Democratic Party's chairman -- reportedly uses his taxpayer-funded office to employ not only this daughter, but his son and his sister. Nepotism -- what's that definition again?
The Sun Times wrote about the family affair Monday and editorialized about it Tuesday, but left out another member of the family - Berrios's daughter: State Representative Toni Berrios.
Rep. Berrios (D-Chicago) didn't have any qualms about voting on video poker expansion that her dad was lobbying for in Springfield last year. "There was no conflict of interest," she told Illinois Review; and insisted her father never discussed the legislation with her although she served on, and didn't recuse herself from, the House Gambling Committee.
But back to the issue.
Mr. Berrios swore off lobbying for big dollar clients such as the Coin Operators Union after he was elected last November as Cook County Assessor. So, most thought that meant he wouldn't be lobbying Springfield anymore; and that he'd be busy focusing on the backlog of property tax issues in Cook County.
Last week, however, Assessor Berrios was in Springfield, promoting legislation his daughter Toni sponsored for county assessors throughout the state. The bill was sponsored by State Senator Susan Garrett and then picked up by several House members, including Toni Berrios.
Observers in last week's Revenue committee hearing report that committee members were confused as to the importance of SB 395, why it urgently needed to be passed out of committee without the exact wording of a needed amendment. "Ask him, ask him," State Rep. Toni Berrios reportedly replied to the committee's questions, while she nodded to her father, Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios.
Long story short, the bill passed the Senate and is on its way to the House, where it most likely will be passed and then returned to the Senate for approval. Here's what the Illinois General Assembly's synopsis of SB 395 says:
Replaces everything after the enacting clause. Amends the Property Tax Code. Provides that a Section concerning the assessment of property that is subject to a PPV lease applies for taxable years 2006 and thereafter (now, the Section applies in taxable years 2006 through 2009). Effective immediately.
Sounds to us at the very least that SB 395 will somehow cost property owners more taxes...perhaps taxes on property they no longer own, but there's more to hear on this, we're sure.
(UPDATE: Illinois Review been contacted by a tax attorney who believes SB 395 is a good thing, and that it stops property owners from abusing the homeowners' exemption as clarified in Amendment #4. If this attorney's analysis is true, then it may be a step in the right direction. The wording of the Amendment #4, filed by Rep. Zalewski on May 23 is HERE.
(It is still, however, awkward and inappropriate for family members to have these political associations and alliances. In fact, most legislators would find it appropriate to recuse themselves from legislation proposed by or affecting a family member.)
The point is not only does Cook County Assessor Berrios shrewdly pick and reward family members for their loyal service to him at the Cook County Assessor's office, they faithfully carry his water in the Illinois General Assembly.