-By Warner Todd Huston
OK, let me get this straight. In order to “protect consumers,” the State of Illinois is considering a law that almost seems like a good idea at first hearing.
Currently, Illinois taxpayers can claim their unclaimed property, lost or abandoned property or overpaid property taxes for free. All an Illinois citizen need do is contact the state and the process can be started for free. And, currently the reclaimed overpaid property taxes alone amounts to some $20 million dollars per year not to mention the other items like re-claimed property, etc.
Sounds great, right?
Sure the “free” part sound great, but there is a catch. A citizen has to somehow find out that they are owed this windfall. And the state doesn’t lift a finger to alert any citizen that they have such a windfall coming their way.
So, to help unite the citizen with the overpaid taxes, there are businesses in the state that take the time to do the research and contact the Illinois citizens who are obviously unaware that they have property in their name or cash that is owed them. Then these companies help citizens reclaim the property and cash… all for a fee, of course.
Imagine this, evil business making money off citizens who can get the same thing done for free by the state! The gall of capitalism is revealed once again.
Now comes to the rescue the new Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias who recently had a press conference proudly announcing House Bill 5373, the “protecting consumers” bill which would put a ten percent cap on fees that could be charged for such services to prevent “outrageous fees. ” Additionally, the “legislation would require finder firms to disclose the name of the institution holding the unclaimed property to make it easier for the rightful owners to locate.”
Thankfully, our great father in Springfield is really watching out for us. Giannoulias assured us he’s only here to help because the new law “would prohibit private for-profit finder firms from charging Illinois residents outrageous fees for re-uniting them with their unclaimed property – something they can do themselves for free.”
Well, at first this all sounds pretty good, right? What could be better than keeping those rotten “private for-profit finder firms” from rippin’ off the consumer?
But, let’s take a little closer look here. First of all, the state of Illinois has a 5-year statute of limitations on its citizens claiming these monies and properties that belong to them. But, the state itself has absolutely no method to alert citizens to what should be their rightful property and cash. If the citizen does not find out somehow that the state or some institution has something that belongs to them in their possession, after five years the state claims it all for itself.
That is where these businesses that find things for the citizens come in. They do the legwork, alert the “consumer” and then help them get the property back. Since the state doesn’t perform this alerting service for free, why should these “for-profit” businesses do so?
Further more, if the state makes no effort to ever contact an Illinois citizen to alert him that he has money or property coming to him, how exactly will he avail himself of the “free” service the government offers for him to start the reclaiming process?
Now, its obvious that the real effort of this bill is not for “protecting consumers” but is, instead, for eliminating the companies who go out and drum up this business by doing the research that leads to reuniting “consumer” and property/money.
And guess what happens when the government basically legislates out of business these evil “for-profit” companies? The state will end up keeping far more money and taking possession of far more properties. After all, it may be “free” for a citizen to collect these unclaimed properties and monies, but if he is never made aware that it all exists in the first place and if that 5-year time limit runs out, guess where all the money goes?
That’s right… it goes into the pockets of Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. Isn’t it great that Alexi Giannoulias has so graciously decided his job is “protecting consumers” in this case?
I have one final thing to say. I placed “consumers” in quotes throughout this piece because the state is using a misleading term in this situation. Sure the citizens that are dealing with these businesses that help find money and property become “consumers” when they agree to accept the fees charged. But here is the real nub of the matter: they aren’t really “consumers” proper. These Illinois citizens should more properly be called TAXPAYERS because the monies being reclaimed, especially, is TAX DOLLARS owed them by over charging state offices. So, these aren’t just “consumers” being “ripped off” by evil “for-profit” companies. They are TAXPAYERS who have been ripped off by the state first!
And what is it that this bill is trying to do? Make sure that more taxpayers are going to be ripped off in the future because this bill will take the profit out of the private businesses that take the time to do the leg work to find the unclaimed money which, in turn, will cause more Illinois citizens to stay unaware they are owed anything by the state.
In other words Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is trying to make sure FEWER Illinoisans find out that the state owes them money with enough notice before that 5-year time limit runs out.
This bill should have a better title than the “protecting consumers” bill. It should be more like the “keeping taxpayers ignorant” bill.
Figures, doesn’t it?
Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer, has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and is featured on many websites such as newsbusters.org, townhall.com, New Media Journal, Men’s News Daily and the New Media Alliance among many, many others. Additionally, he has been a frequent guest on talk-radio programs to discuss his opinion editorials and current events. He has also written for several history magazines and appears in the new book “Americans on Politics, Policy and Pop Culture” which can be purchased on amazon.com. He is also the owner and operator of publiusforum.com. Feel free to contact him with any comments or questions : EMAIL Warner Todd Huston
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