Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Friday, August 10, 2012

The False Nobility of Partisan Swag

The False Nobility of Partisan Swag
©2012 RossWilliams

I don’t dissect local matters much, mostly because when I’m done dissecting there’s not much left except vaguely issue-shaped lint. Local political issues are all so tedious and boring ... usually. This one matter seems to be holding its shape well, though, even after several washings, and it’s annoying the hell out of me.

Every year, there are some property owners who don’t pay their property taxes on time. It always happens. They forget, or they have money issues, lose a job, get divorced, flee town ... whatever. They don’t pay their property taxes.

All states have laws which allow the counties to penalize property tax delinquents. In Illinois, the delinquent taxes are sold at auction to the lowest bidder roughly three months after the last tax bill was due – the county wants their money; the county has bills to pay.

It is the lowest bidder at the auction who takes the tax sale. The bidding is for the interest rate that shall be charged to the property owner. The bid starts at the highest rate allowed by state law [18%] and proceeds downward until it is no longer worth it to the tax buyers to pay the property owner’s taxes for him. It is a reverse bid.

I’ve gotta believe most states operate similarly. When the law is followed.

In Illinois, following the law is only incumbent upon unconnected citizens; government officials and their cousins are frequently exempted. And that is the way my county’s tax sale operated for years and years: contrary to the law. We should all be aware by now of the reputation Illinois Democrats have – Blagojevich ... the Daley Dynasty of Chicago ... generations of Cook County shenanigans in general ...

Coincidentally [or not] there is an abundance of Democrats in my county. They control the county board, and until recently held every county-wide government position, to include Coroner, on the ballot. How is a coroner a Democrat? or a Republican? That changed in 2011 when the County Treasurer resigned suddenly for health reasons and a special election voted in the Republican candidate – a professional CPA with no political experience.

As stated, the tax sale in my county never operated properly. It was supposed to be a reverse auction, but the Democrat County Treasurer who used to run the proceeding could never quite hear any bid below 18%. As a result, delinquent properties in Madison County Illinois were typically sold to those who were, for all practical purposes, Professional Tax Buyers allowed to rig the Madison County tax sale to their benefit. I’m sure they had no connections at all...

But then the Republican Treasurer came into office and changed the Madison County tax sale procedures to operate more according to law. And I have to say “more according to law” because this is, after all, Illinois and we are more corrupt than the average bear. I have no doubt that this one small redirection in the manner by which Madison County sells its delinquent taxes would still be the envy of every Banana Republican to be found in South and Central America.

It did not sit well, though, with the remaining Democrats who run Madison County. Among the changes instigated by the Republican Treasurer was to have an actual officer of the court file the legal motion – merely a procedural detail – instead of having the Treasurer himself do it, as the previous Democrat Treasurers had done for a few decades. Technically, Treasurers – unless they are licensed practicing attorneys – have no lawful ability to file legal motions themselves. The Treasurer gave it to the office of the States Attorney to file.

Well, this Attorney – a Democrat, how is a prosecutor a Democrat? or a Republican? – didn’t file the motion because, well, the Treasurer had always done it ... “It wasn’t the States Attorney’s job,” said the States Attorney.

Yes, actually, it was.

So what happened was that when Madison County held their tax sale, it had not been approved by a judge ... and so the tax sale was “improcedural”. Not completely illegal, since the law allows, indeed requires, counties to sell their tax debt to citizens willing to pay it, but it had to be signed by a judge first, and it hadn’t been. Oopsy.

To make matters worse, the Republican Treasurer held an actual, by-god reverse bid for the tax sales, which annoyed those who showed up attempting to shout down every under-cutter by screaming “EIGHTEEN PERCENT!! EIGHTEEN PERCENT!!” until the Treasurer got tired of listening to it and set the going rate at 18%, which had been common practice for at least a decade. It annoyed them to no end! The interest rate for this tax sale was close to 3%.

The tax sale was held and everyone went home, and no one knew different until some months later when some clerk discovered, hey! we didn’t actually get the motion signed by a judge... so what do we do now?

What they did now was to have the tax sale nullified, refund all tax sale money to the tax buyers, and revert the delinquent tax debt to the ownership of Madison County. And of course all the Democrats on the county board and in virtually every county elected office – to include the Coroner – pointed their fingers at the Republican Treasurer who had started operating more by the book.

By law, the county must charge 1.5% monthly interest on outstanding tax delinquencies. In this case, it will benefit the county coffers because they sell property tax debt at face value simply to have that money immediately rather than having to wait for a property owner to get a new job, or to sell the house and pay off the liens on it, come back from Paraguay, or whatever.

For most counties, this immediate liquidity of tax debt is a major factor in their fiscal solvency, since the county has bills to pay. But Madison County Illinois is in somewhat of a catbird’s seat with their county financing. Several years ago the courthouse three and a half miles from my house was the venue for a class action lawsuit against Philip-Morris, the cigarette maker, for making “light” cigarettes. The idiots who smoked these “light” cigarettes rationalized to themselves how they wouldn’t get cancer, emphysema, or heart disease because all the bad stuff had been taken out of the tobacco. “That’s what ‘light’ means, right?”

Come to find out, these smokers were just as big a group of idiots as other smokers are, and they still got sick, so it was all Philip-Morris’s fault. And they sued. And because Madison County Illinois is a “judicial hellhole”, the only thing you need to do to gain standing to use our courthouse is to find a parking spot on West Vandalia Street. Philip-Morris lost at trial to the tune of over ten billion dollars.

Yes, billion. With a “B”.

Well, Philip-Morris appealed the ruling [duh!], and they were required to put up a cash bond with the county equal to some huge percentage of the liability. Essentially, Philip-Morris gave Madison County a few billion dollars and for two or three years – until the Illinois Supreme Court vacated the ruling altogether – Madison County had been earning interest on Philip-Morris’s money, earning millions upon millions of dollars in the process.

Madison County still has quite a bit of money from that escapade left, because god forbid we reduce our property taxes in this county, highest in the state. We aren’t hurting, is the bottom line, and the county has the ability to retain its own property tax debt at 1.5% interest a month by spending its Philip-Morris windfall to cover the gaps, which was earning around 1% a year.

We still have the tax sale for delinquent 2011 property taxes to contend with, and because property taxes are paid in arrears, the tax debt itself is for 2010, so the properties with unpaid taxes are probably still not paying their taxes. While the Democrat-controlled county board figures out what to do about the tax sale, they’ve also got to figure out what to do about the tax debt that they now own again.

Not content to pout about what the lone Republican among the major elected officials [to include Coroner] had done to make Madison County fractionally less corrupt, the Democrat chairman of the Democrat-controlled Madison County board has put forward a motion that the county vacate the interest on delinquent property taxes completely, because “it is not their fault” that the tax sale was botched.

And he’s right, which is a unique position for this Democrat to be in; but he’s not pertinent. It’s not the tax delinquents’ fault for the botched tax sale, no. It IS the tax delinquents’ fault for not paying their taxes in the first place.

The delinquents would have been charged 3% interest on their outstanding taxes from this tax sale. Or 18% if the sale had been “finessed” to the advantage of the tax buyers who almost certainly did not have any connection to the Treasurer at all perish the thought! The only ones to get screwed here is the tax buyers who, in our county, have been one of our more corrupt institutions. And this is what our Democrat county board chairman believes is unfair.

It would have been perfectly fine to charge property tax delinquents 18%, or even 3%, when the extra money goes to the Democrat-connected tax buyers who’ve long ruled the Madison County tax sale. But when he can pillory a Republican, it becomes an unfair penalty on the innocent. ...according to the faux nobility of the county’s idiot Democrats. And now the ones who are getting screwed are the rest of Madison County’s taxpayers.

The vast majority of Madison County property owners paid their taxes in full and on time simply because they didn’t want the 1.5% interest added onto it, even for a short time, and – had we known – we wouldn’t have paid our taxes either. Hey! If the county’s willing to float a zero-percent loan while they gang up on the Republican who tried to do something properly, I’ll take it. I could have found something to do with almost $5,500 last year, not the least of which would have been to buy delinquent 2010 taxes [for property tax year 2009] that I could have earned 18% on.

As it was, my wife and I had lost track of the due date for the second of our four property tax bills. We thought it was due on the 8th of the month ... it was due on the 6th. We paid it on the 7th, and because it was a day late, we had an extra $21.27 tacked onto it. We paid it, because we were in fact late. We were not “innocent”; we were lazy and didn’t double-check.

But now, if the Democrat-controlled county board, at the urging of the Democrat county board chairman, refuses to charge interest to those who are now 9 months late with their property taxes instead of simply being a day late on one of four payments, then someone’s going to cut me a county check for the interest we paid for being one day late last September.

I wonder if the county’s property owners who paid their property taxes on time, or paid interest penalties on late payments, could constitute a legal class with standing to take a class action? Or do we have to be out-of-state residents to use our own courthouse?


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