PI Original Josh Kalven Wednesday July 7th, 2010, 12:09pm

Flashback: Kirk And His Own $35,000 Tax Break

If Mark Kirk is going to slam his U.S. Senate opponent for simply following the tax code, he should remember that he too saved over $35,000 since 2003 by taking advantage of a homeowner tax break.

In recent days, GOP U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk has been making a huge fuss about Democrat Alexi Giannoulias' $27,000 tax refund -- the result of the financial losses he incurred when his family's bank failed and was seized by the FDIC.  My own opinion is much in line with Archpundit's: While the appearance of a state official and political candidate not having any tax liability is certainly damaging politically, it's not a reflection on the candidate himself.  As Archpundit wrote yesterday: "A business owner following the law is hardly something to be upset about. ... Overall, business owners pay a lot of taxes over time and a one year snapshot tells you very little."  For this very reason, we've largely refrained from echoing Gov. Quinn's criticism of the negative tax liability (due to business losses) reported by Republican rival Bill Brady in 2008 and 2009.

But if he is going to slam Giannoulias for simply following the tax code, Kirk should remember that he has also benefited handsomely from tax breaks available to certain homeowners.  Ellen Beth Gill reminded us of this fact last night:

Kirk gets a large tax break for having purchased a rehabbed property that was sold by the federal government on the cheap to developers who turned it into housing for the wealthy.

While just about everyone else in Lake County is crushed under a huge property tax burden (sometimes over $8,000 per year for a modest house and over $4000 per year for a small condominium), Kirk pays about $700-$800 each year for a pretty swank place in Ft. Sheridan. Now, Kirk will argue that he's entitled by law to that tax reduction, but isn't Giannoulias also legally entitled to his tax losses? [...]

I haven't noticed Kirk donating the difference between what he pays in property taxes and what he normally would pay to the local schools. They need the money badly too.

Progress Illinois unearthed the story about Kirk's property tax deal back in 2008.  You can read up on all the details here and here. The short version is that Kirk and his neighbors used a very clever interpretation of Illinois' historical preservation tax break to lower the assessed values of their Highland Park homes by about 90 percent. 

Below is a table we put together comparing what Kirk would have paid each year if he hadn't taken advantage of the tax break between 2003 and 2007.  The total savings add up to more than $35,000 during that period:

A quick glance at the Lake County Assessor's website shows that Kirk's 2008 tax bill was also under $700.  His most recent bill, however, is much higher as the tax break phases out after eight years.

If Kirk is going to demand that Giannoulias return that refund to the government, he deserves to be asked about the more than $35,000 that have remained in his pocket thanks to the tax code.


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