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A new Chicago tax to pay for housing migrants. A big one!

The more our mayor taxes people trying to do business in Chicago, the more of them move their residence or business out. Yup, a vicious circle.

The reason the City is overun with migrants is Joe Biden. Raising Chicago taxes compounds the problem. The fix to the problem is a new border policy and policy to deport illegals awaiting trial. That fix will likely be delivered after the Nov presidential election. Joe won't be around then.

Johnson’s clout on the line with Bring Chicago Home referendum

Barring a last-minute legal ruling knocking the question off the ballot, voters will be asked to authorize the City Council to alter the real estate transfer tax and use the proceeds to generate $100 million a year to combat homelessness.

By Fran Spielman, Suntimes

Feb 2, 2024, 4:30am MST

A tent encampment along Canalport Avenue under the Dan Ryan Expressway during mid-January sub-zero temperatures. On March 19, voters will decide whether to authorize the City Council to amend the real estate transfer tax and use the proceeds to generate $100 million a year to combat homelessness.Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Mayor Brandon Johnson ’s name won’t be on the March 19 primary ballot, but his political muscle and prestige will be on the line with the binding referendum known as Bring Chicago Home.

Barring a last-minute legal ruling knocking the question off the ballot, voters will be asked to authorize the Chicago City Council to quadruple the real estate transfer tax on the value of property transactions $1.5 million and over and triple the tax on the value of sales from $1 million up to $1.5 million. The tax on homes costing under $1 million, though, would go down.

The goal is to generate $100 million in annual revenue to combat homelessness.

The stakes are high for Johnson. He campaigned on a promise to create a dedicated funding source to help 68,000 unhoused Chicagoans. It’s something his predecessor promised but failed to deliver. That broken promise by Mayor Lori Lightfoot alienated her progressive political base, contributing to her defeat last year.

Johnson is determined to avoid that mistake. Combating homelessness is personal to the mayor. He often talks about how his brother died “addicted and unhoused.”

Johnson owes his election to millions in campaign contributions from — and political foot soldiers provided by — the Chicago Teachers Union, where he served as a paid organizer. CTU president Stacy Davis Gates says helping homeless students is “part of what we went on strike for” in 2019.

“It’s an abomination that, in this city with this much wealth, we have almost 20,000 students attending public schools who are classified as unhoused,” Davis Gates says. If Bring Chicago Home “provides the revenue necessary to get those young people into actual homes with the stability and consistency that provides, then we are all in.

“If you vote ‘yes’ on this referendum, you are voting for 20,000 unhoused students in the Chicago Public Schools to be in a safe, warm home,” Davis Gates says. “I like our odds.”

‘Multimillion-dollar effort’ to make rich ‘pay their fair share’

Davis Gates says she is “absolutely confident” about the outcome, considering who’s quarterbacking the campaign — Emma Tai, former executive director of the CTU-affiliated group United Working Families. Tai marshaled field operations for Johnson’s winning mayoral campaign.

“Emma Tai is one of the most brilliant strategists working in and around progressive politics,” Davis Gates says. “I trust her brilliance and her instincts. She’s done a tremendous job putting together some good infrastructure to get us to where we are now. She has a hot hand. She’s on a roll.”

Emma Tai, executive director of United Working Families, at a City Hall news conference in August 2019.

Emma Tai at a City Hall news conference in 2019.Sun-Times file

Tai says she plans to use lessons learned from Johnson’s 2023 mayoral runoff victory over former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas — despite being outspent 2-to-1 — to deliver a progressive tax structure that would require the “rich to pay their fair share so children can come in from the cold.

“Elections in Chicago are a serious business that require both serious money and a serious field operation,” Tai says. “We closed the year with about $750,000 in the bank. … I anticipate this being a multimillion-dollar effort that will involve knocking on hundreds of thousands of doors and making almost a million phone calls and text messages.”

Already, proponents of Bring Chicago Home have knocked on over 20,000 doors, Tai says.

“When we actually have conversations with people, an overwhelming majority of folks break for us,” Tai says. “In all of my years working on elections, I’ve never seen popularity conversion rates like this.”

Lawsuit, PAC aim to knock referendum off ballot

Tai’s adversaries in the referendum battle are Chicago’s real estate and development interests, and other business groups.

They have filed a lawsuit asking a Cook County judge to knock the referendum off the ballot. They say Johnson’s decision to reduce the tax on property transactions under $1 million while raising it on sales over that amount is a “textbook example” of a time-honored legislative tactic known as “log rolling.” That is, combining a politically unpopular proposal with a popular one to sugarcoat and, therefore, convince voters to swallow the bitter pill.

“We don’t really have any reason for this tax decrease,” says Farzin Parang, executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Association. “It’s actually contrary to all of our rhetoric about progressive tax structures. But we’re going to throw it in there so we can distract voters.”

The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that it is illegal to bundle popular legislation with potentially unpopular measures as a way of ensuring passage.

In addition to the lawsuit, the real estate industry has formed a special interest PAC known in tax circles as a 501(c)(4), which is not required to disclose its donors.

Political operative Greg Goldner is reprising the name “Chicago Forward” to defeat the transaction tax hike. The same name was used by a PAC that helped strengthen then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council majority. Goldner argues a transaction tax increase will further cripple an already devastated downtown commercial real estate market, and the impact will trickle down to homeowners and renters.

“It was kind of sold a little bit as a ‘mansion tax.’ It’s not that. It’s on all property. It’s not limited to houses or condominiums. It’s on all real estate,” Goldner says. “If you have food deserts on the South Side because it’s hard for any business to make the investment to serve communities, this will only make it harder. If you want to build a grocery store on the West Side, this is going to be a hindrance. If you want to build housing in Englewood, this is going to be a hindrance.”

Goldner says he raised “over six figures” in the first week and has “over seven figures” in pledges.

“Some of our donors are just fine being disclosed and will be,” Goldner says. “But there are other donors who are concerned there would be retribution from City Hall and would prefer not to be the target of the administration’s ire.

“They strongly believe this tax will affect investment in neighborhoods. While we all might want the issue of homelessness to be addressed, this is not the right policy to do it.”

In other cities, such as Los Angeles, he says, “This tax has not generated even close to the revenue they thought and, in fact, reduced transaction tax revenues. ... That’s the campaign we will engage in over the next two and a half months.”

Labor group balks over fear of lost construction jobs

The Chicago Federation of Labor dealt the mayor a minor blow recently when it voted to withhold its endorsement and remain neutral on Bring Chicago Home at the apparent behest of trade unions fearing a loss of construction jobs.

Johnson already has done the heavy lifting needed to get the binding question through the council. But if primary voters reject the referendum, the new mayor’s political clout will suffer a serious blow and opponents will surely sense vulnerability.

Asked whether Johnson would be asked to be the face of the Bring Chicago Home campaign by recording robocalls, television, radio and internet commercials, Tai says, “Part of what makes me good at this is that I want everything from everyone. Everything is on the table with all of our stakeholders.”

She says that anyone who knows “how I run campaigns knows that I’m always asking for everything.”

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