Democratic gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss of Evanston today unveiled what he calls a comprehensive approach to fix Illinois’ broken property tax valuation, assessment and appeals system.

“Our property tax system is completely broken, but perfectly reflects the fundamental problem with Illinois right now – the middle class pays more than they should, and we still can’t meet our obligations or fund our priorities because the very rich game the system to pay less than their fair share,” Biss said. 

Biss says his plan would make property tax valuation in Illinois fairer, end the property tax appeals racket that lines the pockets of attorneys and politicians at the expense of ordinary homeowners and ultimately provide property tax relief for working and middle-class families. 

“For too long the millionaires and machine politicians have been able to manipulate the corrupt property tax system to benefit themselves, leaving ordinary homeowners to pay more. It’s time for a property tax system that’s fair to the rest of us,” Biss added.

He unveiled the plan at the Melrose Park home of Barbara Garner who was recently featured in the Chicago Tribune report exposing how the valuation system set up by the Cook County Assessor’s office “harmed the poor and helped the rich.” 

“You’ll hear a lot in this campaign decrying our broken property tax system. What you won’t hear are admissions from millionaires and billionaires that they used their wealth and connections to secure six-figure pay days from a system they now decry as candidates. What you also won’t hear are solutions. We need to be honest about our problems. But, the people of Illinois know what’s wrong with Illinois. What they also deserve are honest solutions.”  

Biss, who represents Evanston in the state senate, said he will introduce the Honesty, Openness, Modernization, and Ethics (HOME) in Assessments Act in the senate along with Sen. Jacqueline Collins later this week. 

It would:

  • Require assessors to publicly disclose the models they use to estimate and validate the value of homes and business.
  • Require state oversight and reporting on local officials, conduct audits, provide data, and remove authority from officials who repeatedly fail to do their jobs.
  • Require assessors to modernize their broken valuation systems, which unfairly make low and middle-income homeowners pay more and rich ones pay less, and fairly value our homes.
  • Require detailed statistical analysis by the Department of Revenue to reveal whether properties are being assessed properly, uniformly, and equitably. With modern and fair valuation methods, wealthier residents will pay their fair share, and our over-reliance on property tax appeals to provide relief for low and middle-income homeowners will be reduced.
  • Subject property tax lawyers to pay-for-play rules that curb conflicts of interest. Limit contributions from property tax lawyers to assessors, candidates for assessor, and others involved in processing appeals to $750 a year. Any contributions above that cap would result in prohibiting the violating property tax attorney from practicing law.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Great idea

    I’m 100% in favor of full disclosure, transparency, accuracy and equity for our real estate taxes and government (at all levels). However, there seem to be many people with vested interests including Speaker of the House, Mike Madigan, who will be opposed to this proposal.

    I’ll be very interested to monitor its progress in Springfield.

    Thank you Senator Biss.

  2. Agree with Biss

    Finally Biss has a plan to save middleclass taxpayers some money, rather than cost them more money. Good plan this time.

  3. We need pension and tax reform. Period.

    Reform the tax valuation system sure but how about lawmakers stop spending and borrowing and raising taxes? Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana have come out of the Recession just fine and are healthy financially but not Illinois, which the governor correctly said is now a banana republic.

    Biss’ first bullet point is already in place in Cook County at least.  http://www.cookcountyassessor.com/Resources/Residential-Tax-Bill.aspx

    The second one is already in place to a degree. The third and fourth are ambigious. What does he mean by modernize the “broken system?”  And  how will the Dept. of Revenue’s statistical analysis differ from the analysis taxing agencies have now. The last  point I like and does need an immediate remedy. Tax attorneys have contributed millions to Democratic Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios. But all of this is just window dressing. Larger tax and pension problems loom, and spell gloom and doom for Illinois.

    Tax valuation reform is a drop in the bucket compared to the constant rise in property taxes. Chicago councilmembers, all Democrats, last year passed the largest property tax hike in the city’s history. And there are many unfair property tax advantages such as universities with billions in endowments that rather than pay property taxes these universities gobble up more properties, taking them off the tax rolls. There are families living in homes that pay no property taxes by filing their homes as primary places of worship or used for religious purposes.

    Don’t forget folks Biss wants a Robin Hood bill passed in Springfield that would take money from wealthier school districts such as Evanston and give it to poorer school districts. In other words, some of the property taxes you pay would go to support public school districts far far away from Evanston. And it appears Biss is a Madigan man. Biss ran the super PAC,  Leading Illinois for Tomorrow, which was supported by House Speaker Michael Madigan

    We need property, income and sales tax reform. We need to kick out of office every single last lawmaker who have put this state billions in debt with irresponsible spending, borrowing and raising every kind of tax out there. There is now talk that Illinois might declare bankruptcy. 

    We need meaningful government pension reform. We need lawmakers willing to make the hard fiscal decisions rather than kicking the can down the road by spending, borrowing, raising taxes and leaving the unsustainable government pension system to spiral out of control. 


    1. Daniel Biss is not a Madigan

      Daniel Biss is not a Madigan man. He told me as much at a 5K race in Evanston two years, saying that Madigan tries to keep his hands tied at every turn.

      1. Biss is a Madigan man

        Madigan is Biss’ largest campaign contributor. Since first running for office in 2008, Biss has personally taken over $300,000 in campaign cash from Madigan.

        Public records reveal that Biss is loyal to Madigan’s Chicago Machine, taking Madigan money, voting for his unbalanced budgets, backing him for Speaker, and even running a super PAC, in which the biggest donors were Madigan, his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, their political supporters and Madigan-supported labor unions. Biss’ PAC raised $10 million, much of it raised with Madigan’s direct and indirect assistance.

        Last year, Biss voted for Madigan’s out-of-balance budget that overspent by $7 billion, even as the budget vote failed and other Senate Democrats voted no. The Madigan-Biss budget was so unbalanced, it would’ve forced a $1,000 tax hike on every Illinois family.

        Along with Madigan’s help, Biss has received campaign donations from lawyers, lobbyists, big pharma, banks and government unions. 

        Biss is putting up a front that he opposes Madigan. It’s an act to get votes. 

        Don’t be fooled, Biss is definitely a Madigan man

    2. We are here BECAUSE of Pension Reform

      Perhaps the most enduring culprit is the “Edgar ramp,” conceived in 1994 by Republican Gov. Jim Edgar as a 50-year program to stabilize the retirement systems. 

      Edgar set a goal of having the systems 90 percent funded by 2045. For the plan’s first 15 years, payment levels were set artificially low—effectively shorting the pension systems each year—and then ramped up significantly in later years. This allowed politicians to comply with the required payments at the start while hoping that future leaders would find billions of dollars down the road.

  4. While I appreciate Biss’

    While I appreciate Biss’ approach here, I would actually suggest this is not a situation of the “rich gaming the system”.  In fact — the “system” is already fully rigged, leaving the “rich” to only do the logical thing, and that is to appeal their assessments, which Eric Zorn so passionately advocated for in his Sunday op-ed.  

    Daniel — don’t throw out class-warfare comments when not appropriate.  Instead — address the textbook case of institutional racism which the current system, run by Berrios, and benefitting the likes of Sufredin, Burke, and Madigan, produces.


Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *