The ‘Purge Law’ is rightwing propaganda

The Weekly has extensively covered cash bond reform—it was the subject of the last cover story in 2020—but in recent months the topic gained traction after Republicans in Illinois and nationwide weaponized the issue ahead of the general elections in an attempt to push the criminalized narrative about Chicago. Governor J.B. Prizker signed a bill known as the SAFE-T Act in February that would eliminate cash bail, but the move was quickly mischaracterized as a get-out-of-jail card that would release violent criminals into the streets. When, in fact, the measure is meant to address the hundreds of detainees who are locked up in jails awaiting their trial because they cannot afford a bond: proponents consider it a matter of economic and racial justice. The SAFE-T Act does not pertain to violent felonies like murder and sexual assault or to suspects who pose a “flight risk” or a safety risk to their communities. A Loyola University study found that even though Cook County Jail released a quarter of its detainees in 2020 due to COVID, it did not have a direct correlation to an increase in crime in the city.

Gentrifying Latinx neighborhoods see staggering increase in property tax bills

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas’ recent report on this year’s property taxes highlighted the increased burden facing Latinx neighborhoods and prompted calls for reform to the system of property taxes. The report stated that Cook County was billed $614 million more than last year, with homeowners picking up the majority of the increase. A few reasons for the higher taxes were noted: a new state law allowing municipalities to recoup taxes refunded in the previous year; additional taxes from TIF districts going into the TIF fund instead of paying for operating expenses, shifting the burden to others; and successful appeals of assessments, lowering those individuals’ bills but forcing others to pick up the tab.

In 2018, Fritz Kaegi beat Joseph Berrios in the primary race for Cook County Assessor on the power of a simple promise: make the system of property tax assessments more fair. For years, Berrios had been underassessing the value of big commercial properties and overassessing the value of homes in low-income neighborhoods. That led to lower property taxes for corporations that owned skyscrapers and higher property taxes for homeowners—or higher rents, as landlords passed down the costs to tenants. Kaegi promised to bring the assessments in line with reality and international standards, and did so, with residential assessments falling and commercial assessments going up. 

But it turns out the assessor is only part of the puzzle. Property owners can go to the Cook County Board of Review to appeal their assessments, and in many cases lower their tax bills—which means the rest have to pay the difference. Often those with time and money are in the best position to appeal their tax bills, prompting alderpeople like Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) to say “the system is broken” and should be reformed. Another factor is that in gentrifying neighborhoods, the overall value of land went up, leading to tax bills for residents up to three times higher than last year. Ald. Rosanna Rodriguez-Sanchez pointed out higher taxes will lead to displacement in Latinx neighborhoods, as “many live on fixed incomes” and that there’s been a “displacement of Latinos to the suburbs because they can’t afford to live here already.” On December 12, Kaegi met with members of the Pilsen Chamber of Commerce, the Resurrection Project, and the Pilsen Community Neighbor’s Council to discuss concerns about the high tax bills.

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