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Pritzker Tax Protest: Activists Target Chicago's Richest Family's Property Tax Bill

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First Posted: 03/ 1/2012 3:04 pm Updated: 03/ 1/2012 3:52 pm

Updated story

A group of Chicago homeowners, hospitality workers and community leaders is calling on Chicago's wealthiest family to pay their fair share of property taxes.

Unite Here, a hospitality union representing over 15,000 hotel and food service workers in Chicago, released a report Thursday titled "Tax Relief for Billionaires" that accuses members of the Pritzker family of routinely soliciting and obtaining local property tax reductions on their multi-million dollar Chicago homes.

"When billionaires pay less taxes, we all pay the price," said Linda O'Neal, a server at the W Chicago Lakeshore and homeowner with three children enrolled in Chicago Public Schools, according to a press release from Unite Here. "I don't make the kind of money the Pritzkers make, but I pay my fair share of taxes. It's time for Chicago's wealthiest family to stand up and stop hurting our communities."

Citing documents from the Cook County assessor's office, the coalition's report states that Penny Pritzker, the daughter of Sue and Donald Pritzker and Chairperson of Classic Residence by Hyatt, has appealed the tax bill on her Lincoln Park mansion 10 times since 2006, and has been successful twice, saving close to $200,000, with two more appeals pending.

The report also targets other members of the fifth wealthiest family in the U.S., including Tom Pritzker, chief executive of The Pritzker Organization, and filmmaker Gigi Pritzker Pucker, who both live in a historic Lincoln Park cooperative that has appealed its property taxes at least 15 times since 2003, according to the report, and has received reductions for four of the past nine years, including a 27 percent decrease in 2009.

In the press release, Unite Here equated the Pritzker's property tax reductions to money stolen from Chicago's schools, parks and libraries, which are in part funded by property taxes and have faced massive budget cuts this year. Penny, Tom, Gigi and Nick Pritzker, as well as Hyatt Hotels CEO Mark Hoplamazian, have lowered their tax payments by over $300,000 from 2006 to 2010, according to the report.

"I think it's unacceptable that Penny Pritzker sits on the Chicago Board of Education, and at the same time is fighting to lower her property taxes at our schools' expense," said Teran Loeppke, an ordained clergyperson in the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, according to the union's press release. "Ms. Pritzker should drop her appeals immediately, and commit to stop fighting against the interests of our city's students."

Unite Here has previously protested working conditions at Hyatt hotels.

Update: Hyatt has issued a statement responding to Unite Here's allegations, calling the property tax report "a distraction from the real issue."

"It is sad that [Unite Here Local 1 President Henry Tamarin] would spend his time and the union's money to attack Pritzker family members rather than negotiating constructively with Hyatt, which has been trying for more than two years to secure an agreement that would give our associates the wage and benefit increases they deserve," Hyatt representatives said in a written statement.

Hyatt also defended the Pritzkers, and said it was proud to be associated with the family.

"Through their philanthropic efforts and their investments of time and energy, Pritzker family members have made significant contributions to our city."

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Filed by Lizzie Schiffman  |