Opinion: Brandon Johnson’s ‘moderate’ problem

Opinion: Brandon Johnson’s ‘moderate’ problem

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson faces many challenges, but his biggest may be the loss of faith from moderate voters. Without their trust, he’ll have a tough time getting the higher taxes he seeks March 19.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson eked out a narrow win in 2023 against Paul Vallas, now a senior adviser to the Illinois Policy Institute. Johnson won the election with 52% of the vote, and his popularity has been falling ever since. As of now, more Chicagoans disapprove of his performance in office than approve.

But the biggest challenge facing Johnson is how moderates view his leadership and his agenda.

There’s little comfort for Johnson given his current standing with voters, to say nothing of its trajectory. Moderate Chicago voters now disapprove of Johnson as strongly as they disapproved of former Mayor Lori Lightfoot at the end of her single term.

Johnson’s approval is the lowest recorded for any mayor since 1979, except for former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whose approval near the end of her term was only slightly lower than Johnson’s is now. Perhaps that explains why a group of mayoral supporters took out a full-page ad in the Chicago Sun-Times declaring Johnson “The People’s Mayor,” a move veteran Chicago reporter Mary Ann Ahern described as a tactic “rarely seen in [a] non-election year.”

Johnson’s proposed real estate transfer tax, which will appear on the March 19 ballot, will be a major test of the mayor’s ability to advance his agenda despite his declining approval.

Advocates of the measure maintain the tax hike will raise $100 million. They assure voters the money will be spent to combat homelessness. While the administration has presented a seemingly benevolent policy aim, it has offered no specifics on its real-world implementation.

The data that does exist on similar taxing policies, specifically from Los Angeles, shows increasing taxes on property sales has raised far less revenue than originally projected. It is also dragging down the city’s commercial real estate and rental markets.

The damage to be inflicted in Chicago by Johnson’s tax proposal extends far beyond “the rich” Johnson claims are targeted by his so-called “mansion tax.” In reality, the tax will hit many relatively modest properties small business owners are relying upon for their retirement funds.

Ending homelessness is a laudable goal. No thinking, feeling person wants their fellow Chicagoans out on the streets, especially in the city’s harsh winter weather.

Here’s the problem: While Johnson has pledged to devote the tax revenues to addressing homelessness, he hasn’t told anyone exactly how he’ll solve the problem once the revenues start coming in. The resolution, dubbed “Bring Home Chicago,” says the money “shall be deposited in a fund to be dedicated to combating homelessness, including providing permanent affordable housing and the services necessary to obtain and maintain permanent housing.”

However, once the proposed fund has been established, there are no concrete proposals for how to distribute the money. Essentially, the mayor is attempting to acquire new taxing powers without revealing a spending plan or any specifics on how the city will reduce homelessness if voters approve the tax.

It’s especially galling the mayor is asking for more money given news that the city has spent just 29% of the $550 million in federal COVID funds intended to shore up the city’s social safety net.

First We Get the Money” isn’t a winning strategy for the city, because as far as anyone knows that’s as far as Johnson’s tax plan goes. The city has gotten a firsthand taste of how operating without a plan works under the Johnson administration, as the city has become completely hobbled and overwhelmed by the migrant crisis, and the ensuing failed attempts to provide “tent camps” on toxic, unsafe sites.

Moderates – people we’d consider commonsense, nonpartisan thinkers – have a pretty simple list of wants and needs on which they expect their mayor to deliver: reduce rampant crime; lessen the tax burden; address homelessness; and ensure kids are getting a good education.

All of these things deserve careful thought and require a coherent plan. Voters deserve nothing less from their mayor.

The city’s homeless and mental health problems are worsening, and Chicagoans want their government to intervene. Voters realize big problems like these require creative, thoughtful solutions.

Johnson’s reluctance to incorporate practical solutions alongside his costly big picture proposals will certainly affect the way commonsense Chicagoans view their mayor – no matter how many full-page ads are purchased.

Republication: This opinion piece is offered for republication. Please include the following when using institute content: “This opinion used with permission of the Illinois Policy Institute, copyright 2024. See more at illinoispolicy.org.”

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