Where do Chicago mayor candidates stand on issues voters most care about?

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
March 24, 2023

Where do Chicago mayor candidates stand on issues voters most care about?

Crime and taxes top the issues Chicagoans are concerned about in the 2023 mayoral election. Find out where mayoral candidates Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson stand before the April 4 election.

Chicagoans are not happy with public safety or education in their city.

Just 23% of voters were satisfied with public safety and 33% with public education, according to recent polling by Echelon Insights conducted for the Illinois Policy Institute. The top two issues for Chicago voters: crime (71%) and high taxes (27%).

In addition, most Chicago parents say the Chicago Teachers Union has too much influence over the city. All the while, CTU is spending millions to get one of their own employees into the mayor’s office, hoping to cement a power grab over the nation’s third-largest city.

But where do mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas stand on the issues most important to voters? Here’s what they’ve said.

Public safety: 51% of voters say more police is the best way to address violent crime

Crime is overwhelmingly voters’ most important issue this election. While the number of murders was down in Chicago in 2022, overall crime increased, with theft driving that increase. Car theft was up 114% since 2018, and other thefts increased by 32% since 2018. Just last year, motor vehicle theft increased by 102% and theft by 56%.

The majority of Chicagoans polled said more police on the streets and prosecution of offenders is the best path forward.

Here’s where the candidates stand:

  • Vallas has said he wants to fill 1,600 police vacancies and add 700 new officers, which he says would be enough to have a police presence at every Chicago Transit Authority station and platform, with undercover officers riding trains. He is endorsed by Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police.
  • Johnson would not pledge to fill police vacancies in a recent debate. He has come under fire for a 2020 radio interview in which he said defunding the police is “an actual, real political goal” but has since stated he would not defund police. However, Johnson is on record in 2023 stating he would cut the police budget by $150 million.

Education: 66% of Chicago parents support school choice and the state’s Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program

Enrollment in Chicago Public Schools has declined by nearly 90,000 and student proficiency has dropped since 2010. Last year, 80% of 11th-graders could not read or perform math at grade level, and nearly half of CPS students were chronically absent.

With a failing public school system, parents want options. Most Chicagoans – 66% of parents and 62% overall – supported school choice.

Similarly, 66% of parents and 65% of Chicagoans overall supported the state’s Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program, which provides scholarships to low-income families to attend the private schools of their choice. The program is set to expire at the end of 2023.

Here’s where the candidates stand:

  • Vallas has promised to expand school choice to give families options, particularly those who are low income. He supports the state’s Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program.
  • Johnson – who is endorsed and employed by the Chicago Teachers Union – is strongly opposed to school choice, charter expansion and the tax credit scholarship program. CTU has tried to kill the school choice program for low-income students. Media sources have questioned whether Johnson can remain neutral when bargaining with CTU if elected mayor.

Taxes: 52% of Chicagoans prefer lowering taxes on businesses

 Chicagoans already pay some of the highest taxes in the nation. Among the 15 most populous cities in America, Chicago’s 911 surcharge, wireless taxes, amusement tax, soft drink tax, bottled water tax, cigarette tax, parking tax, ridesharing fees and homesharing fees were the highest in the country as recently as 2018. Chicago’s total combined state and local sales tax rate is second highest in the nation. The largest tax Chicagoans pay are property taxes, which are also among the highest in the nation.

Most Chicagoans think taxes on businesses should be lowered, while just 29% think taxes on businesses should be raised.

While neither candidate proposes raising property taxes, here’s where the candidates stand on other tax issues:

  • Vallas’ plan focuses on using “budgetary acumen to work within the existing budget’s bounds” and managing money For example, he suggests tapping more into the city’s Tax Increment Financing surpluses. Although Vallas has “proposed little in the way of new revenue streams for the city,” he is considering supporting legalizing video poker and using the money generated from it and sports betting as revenue streams.
  • Johnson plans to generate “$800 million in new revenue” by making “the suburbs, airlines & ultra-rich pay their fair share.” Among other new taxes or tax hikes, Johnson suggests charging employers for each worker they employ, raising the real estate transfer tax on “high-end” home sales and broadening the city’s sales tax to include professional services. He also proposes hiking Chicago’s hotel tax, which is already the highest in the nation, the Chicago Sun-Times has reported.

Chicagoans have a choice between two very different candidates

The candidate’s stances are about as different as their funding sources. As of March 14, more than 95% of Johnson’s campaign funding had come from just 15 unions. Nearly 83% of Vallas’ funds had come from more than 720 individual donors.

With the two candidates representing different paths for the city, Chicagoans face a very important choice. Early voting and voting by mail is already underway for the April 4 election.

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