Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President & Chief Executive Officer, Jack Lavin, provided testimony to the Cook County Board of Commissioners’ Finance Committee on Dec. 15, 2020, to outline the position of the Chamber and business community on property taxes in Cook County:  

“Chairman Daley and members of the committee: thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. I am Jack Lavin, President and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. The Chicagoland Chamber represents the breadth and diversity of the Chicago business community with more than 1,000 members which collectively employ over 400,000 employees.

No issue impacts the entirety of our business community like property taxes in Cook County. The pandemic has only exacerbated the property tax situation that has been building for decades. We thank Treasurer Pappas for her recent study, which quantifies what we believed to be true: property taxes have outpaced what residents and businesses can afford.

At its core, the problem is that the ever-increasing cost of government is simply too high primarily due to the steep rise in unfunded pension liabilities. The Chamber will continue to press for meaningful pension reform, but businesses in Cook County need relief and stability now.

You see the impact the pandemic has had firsthand on businesses in your districts. Retail sales have declined to levels not seen for decades, more than half of our restaurants have closed or anticipate closing within six months without additional assistance, and tourism is down 70 percent. Just last week, we saw the largest uptick in the number of Americans applying for unemployment insurance benefits since March. In our downtown office market – which has powered the tax base for years – values have plunged 30 percent and less than a third of tenants anticipate keeping the same amount of space after the pandemic. 

These challenges will continue beyond distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, not only in the central business district but in commercial corridors in every neighborhood of the City and across the County as all industries adjust to a new way of doing business.

Amidst this crisis, businesses are expressing significant concerns as we look towards the 2021 reassessment of properties in the City of Chicago that does not take into consideration the long-term impacts of the COVID crisis on our economy. We understand that there are some who think that business does not pay their fair share. This is a myth.  What is often not understood is that the property tax system in Cook County is already disproportionately reliant on businesses. Cook County is the only county in the State and one of only a handful in the country that assesses commercial and industrial property at a significantly higher percentage than residential — commercial property is assessed at 25% while residential property is assessed at 10%.  So, a commercial property that is valued at $1 million is taxed at a much higher rate than a $1 million home. In fact, property taxes now inflate Chicago office building rents by a larger proportion than any other big U.S. City – averaging an annual cost of $1,900 per employee.  This has a direct and immediate impact on an employer’s ability to create jobs, compete in the global economy and recover from this economic crisis.

Businesses — particularly our struggling restaurants, hospitality companies, and small businesses — need immediate relief and cannot afford an increase in their property taxes if we want to get people back to work and help our companies get up and running again.

The Chamber stands ready to work with you and your colleagues and President Preckwinkle to address these issues and make the Chicagoland region the best place to live, work, and run a business. Thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today.”