Editorial: Voters send loud message to Mayor Johnson, his Chicago Teachers Union allies

Editorial: Voters send loud message to Mayor Johnson, his Chicago Teachers Union allies

In 2020, 70% of Chicago voters approved the failed statewide progressive income tax. But on March 19, they rejected Mayor Brandon Johnson’s real estate transfer tax hike. This is a resounding defeat for Johnson and his allies in the Chicago Teachers Union.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s “Bring Chicago Home” tax hike failed on March 19. Its defeat is a blow not only to Johnson, but also to the Chicago Teachers Union leadership who got him elected, put $400,000 into the effort, took students out of school to vote for it – and were just shown how very disenchanted city voters have become with CTU’s machine politics.

Overall, 54% of Chicago voters rejected the tax and 46% voted yes, based on preliminary results with 98% of precincts reporting. Tax proponents were admitting defeat. This signals a major shift in the city, where the progressive income tax, which failed statewide, got over 70% of the vote in Chicago in 2020.

The CTU’s ground game is incomparable, as it can turn out its nearly 28,000 members every election. Its war chest is tough to beat, too. Records show the CTU spent $400,000 to pass Bring Chicago Home. But even in a low-turnout primary, Johnson and his allies couldn’t mobilize enough of a base – even by lobbying students and marching them to the polls – to overcome Chicagoans’ unhappiness with and distrust of the mayor, who never revealed his plans for how he’d spend the new taxes to help the homeless. Moreover, ahead of Election Day, CTU revealed its list of contract demands, which hinted that future Bring Chicago Home funds could be used for teacher housing assistance. Chicago teachers average $93,000 currently and are demanding raises that will take that to $145,000 by the end of their new contract. It’s pretty easy to find Chicagoans in greater need.

As late as March 13, Johnson told reporters he was planning to work with the City Council on a spending plan … if the measure passed. Meaning, after the fact. As in: First he’d get the money. Then we’d find out.

Chicago already has funding designated for combating homelessness – apart from Johnson’s defeated real estate transfer tax hike. Johnson allocated $400 million in the 2024 budget for homelessness and unhoused migrants. Meanwhile, the city is sitting on millions of dollars in unused federal aid money that could be used to reduce homelessness. There was never any justification for Bring Chicago Home’s economically damaging tax hike.

Johnson campaigned on a platform of $800 million in tax hikes. He has failed to advance any of those nine plans to get that money. The mayor would be wise to consider the message his constituents sent in the primary. Not only did they reject his tax hike proposal, but the Cook County State’s Attorney race between CTU-endorsed Clayton Harris III and Eileen O’Neill Burke was also too close to call Tuesday night – within about a percentage point. Burke is a former judge who has vowed to restore public safety. What Chicagoans want is clear: A safe, affordable, world-class city. 

It’s time for the Johnson administration to get to work on delivering what the people want. Bring Chicago Home would’ve hit Chicago’s commercial real estate market, which still hasn’t recovered from the pandemic shutdown. It would’ve driven up rent. It would’ve killed growth. Chicago needs to woo businesses, not chase them away. A healthy business climate will provide jobs and grow the whole tax base, which is the solution to the city’s fiscal problems and ultimately the only way we can effectively tackle tough socioeconomic problems such as homelessness.

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