State Rep. Luis Arroyo apologizes for taking homeowner’s tax break on two homes
BY PATRICK REHKAMP Better Government Association November 16, 2012 2:56PM
Updated: November 16, 2012 2:56PM
An influential state legislator is the latest Chicago-area political figure caught improperly accepting more property tax breaks than the law allows.
State Rep. Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago) owns a single-family home and a two-flat next door to each other on the 2400 block of North Nordica. He lives in one; his daughter in the other.
The Better Government Association found that for nearly a decade Arroyo benefitted from a “home owner exemption” on both buildings — a tax break that’s supposed to apply only to a property owner’s principal residence, not investment or rental properties.
The BGA recently inquired about this with Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios’ office, which contacted Arroyo. He, in turn, promptly refunded more than $4,400 in improper property tax relief he’s received since buying the two-flat in 2003.
Subsequently reached on the phone, Arroyo told the BGA it was an honest mistake, and said he was sorry.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” he said. “I apologize to the taxpayers. I paid the money that was owed back and we’ll go from there.”
Arroyo said he doesn’t recall applying for the second exemption. (A home owner exemption carries a property tax break that varies based on factors such as a building’s size and location.)
In fact, he said he didn’t even know about the exemption because his accountant deals with his property taxes.
The BGA previously reported that Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas and recently resigned Sauk Village Mayor Lewis Towers, who also works for the assessor’s office, were securing more property tax breaks than they were entitled to. Both eventually issued refunds.
Berrios has been supporting legislation that would help his office more easily punish abusers. Right now, there’s little recourse for the assessor to recoup money other than to publicly embarrass those gaming the system.
“Over the past year, we have had everyone from local government officials to county and statewide elected officials repay money that they have saved through multiple homeowner exemptions,” Kelley Quinn, a Berrios spokeswoman, said via email. “It is clear that this is a problem of significant magnitude and that it needs to quickly be addressed.”
Berrios is politically aligned with Arroyo; they each donated to each other’s political campaign funds over the years, state records show.
Arroyo was in the news in recent weeks after he asked Metra’s board of directors to rename a train station in his district after late-great ballplayer Roberto Clemente — and seemingly suggested that state funding could get cut if he didn’t get his way.