Wrong Request Receives Rightful Rejection


Anybody who has read this blog for any length of time knows how much we harp on transparency and accountability.  After honesty and integrity, there aren’t two qualities we’d rather have in government.

But transparency and accountability should serve a legitimate public purpose rather than being merely gratuitous.

Which brings us to an article that just appeared yesterday in the on-line version of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, breathlessly titled: “Park Ridge officials decline to release income taxes.” (May 6, 2014)

According to the article, the H-A requested that Mayor Dave Schmidt and the City’s seven aldermen release their 2013 income tax returns to the public. No reason was articulated for that request, although its reference to “the release of tax returns by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and gubernatorial opponent Bruce Rauner last month” suggests that the H-A sees some connection between the highest office of our state and the highest offices in our City.

The mayor and all seven aldermen refused the H-A’s request.

As well they should have.

In the first instance, there’s no Illinois law that requires local government officials to publish their income tax returns. In fact, there’s no Illinois law that requires our gubernatorial candidates to publish theirs, or that requires such disclosures from our state senators and state representatives. And as best as we can tell, there isn’t even any federal law that requires presidential candidates to publish their income tax returns, even if such publication has become de rigeur in those campaigns in much the same way as in gubernatorial campaigns.

So what’s the point of such disclosures by the mayor and the Council, H-A?

What information do income tax returns contain that so directly bears on the decisions made by our City officials on City issues that it warrants an invasion of their personal privacy (and that of their spouses, where joint returns are involved) to which income tax returns are generally entitled by law?  Not surprisingly, the H-A article doesn’t say.

But given that City government is funded by property taxes, wouldn’t it make more sense for the H-A to have requested copies of each official’s property tax bill?  Or just to have obtained them directly from Cook County?

When aldermen vote for or against a property tax increase, or when the mayor vetoes a property tax increase, it might be interesting to know how such a decision will impact their own tax bill – which might provide at least a sliver of understanding about why they cast their votes the way they did.  It stands to reason that an alderman with a $600,000 home might be less inclined toward a big tax increase than an alderman with a $200,000 condo, given that the City’s portion of the former’s tax bill could increase by three times the increase to the latter’s.

Had the H-A actually given some thought to the reason for disclosure of tax information rather than merely knee-jerk reacting to what our state’s gubernatorial candidates were doing, it would have asked for property tax bills.  And we’re betting it would have received full compliance from the mayor and the aldermen.

But that wouldn’t have made for as nifty a headline.

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