Reporting Jay Levine
(CBS) — When the new Cook County tax bills go out this weekend, there will be more than the usual bad news for property owners.
Treasurer Maria Pappas has outed the towns, school districts and other taxing bodies with balance sheets that will make you cringe. In some cases, it might make you wonder why you want to live where you do.
“This is the first time in the United States that such a thing been done,” Pappas tells CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine.
Who’s going to be unhappy with the bill format?
“Anybody who’s been hiding the information,” Pappas says.
In addition to the amount you owe for the first installment, the bill now includes every taxing body you pay, from Cook County, its forest preserve, the city of Chicago, schools and parks.
The bill will also include their gross operating budgets and pension liabilities, and the percentage that their pension liability is funded. In other words: a snapshot of the financial condition of your community.
Says Pappas: “I think the first reaction is ‘Oh, my God, I didn’t realize this was happening, so I think people have to step back look at it and say, ‘You know what? Am I buying a home in this suburb which has so much debt?’”
Want a closer look, or a comparison of those around you? That’s on the treasurer’s website.
Chicago for example, as of last year, had $30 billion in debts, plus unfunded pension liabilities of another $15 billion. Its employees’ pensions are just 44 percent funded. All that debt, compared with an annual budget of $6 billion a year.
Evanston owes $331 million, plus another $205 million for pensions just 47 percent funded, with an annual budget of $73 million. Chicago Heights owes $75 million, plus $44 million for pensions, which are 65 percent funded and a budget of $54 million.
Pappas predicts the 1.7 million people who get bills next week will be happy with the wealth of information. Meanwhile, she says, about 30 people will be unhappy.
Who are those 30? The folks in charge of municipalities or agencies with huge debts and no money to pay them. Which means tax increases could be just around the corner. Something taxpayers might not have known before Pappas’ secret project.