In ‘shocker’ of a vote, Chicago transfer tax hike headed for defeat

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The key policy item for first-term Mayor Brandon Johnson would have raised an estimated $100 million through a tax hike on real estate sales.

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In a surprise blow to first-term Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, voters appear to have rejected a ballot measure that would have raised the tax paid on real estate buyers above $1 million.

Johnson and supporters, notably the city’s powerful teacher’s union, hoped the referendum would pass and create what they said would be $100 million in annual revenue to support unspecified efforts to help with the city’s homelessness issues.

Realtors across the city opposed the measure, saying it would have acted as yet another headwind for a struggling industry and that it would have led to further property tax increases and rent hikes.

“Votes are still being counted, but whatever the result, this is not a time for celebrations,” said Jeff Baker, CEO of Illinois Realtors, which raised $1 million to fight the measure. “Everyone in Chicago deserves housing stability — this is what the 17,000 Realtors throughout the city advocate and work for every day.”

Johnson and allies on the City Council muscled the measure onto the city’s primary ballot with a contentious vote last fall.

They proposed cutting the real estate transfer tax for all real estate purchases below $1 million, from 0.75 percent of the purchase price to 0.6 percent.

Buyers of properties between $1 million and $1.5 million would pay 2 percent of the purchase price. For purchases above $1.5 million, buyers would pay 3 percent of the purchase price.

Groups that included landlord associations, the commercial real estate industry and Realtors fought the measure in the courts. They were initially successful before the state Supreme Court eventually ruled less than a week before the election that the measure could move forward.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the measure was failing by a vote of 46.34 percent in favor to 53.66 percent opposed.

Both sides were cautious to avoid declaring victory, noting that 21 percent of the vote — mostly mail-in ballots — had not yet been counted.

Still, given the projected makeup of the remaining returns, the measure appeared likely to fail, according to Chicago Tribune editorial board member Steve Daniels.

“#BringChicagoHome was simply crushed tonight,” Daniels wrote on X. “Biggest shocker of the evening. And it’s worse than it even appears on the surface.”

Illinois Policy, a conservative think tank that opposed the measure, filed an ethics complaint against campaign supporters during the election cycle, saying the Chicago Teachers Union violated ethics rules when it worked with supporters to march high school students to the polls on Friday.

“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,” Hilary Gowins, senior vice president of the group, wrote Tuesday night.

The campaign supporting the measure, known as Bring Chicago Home, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“The Realtors, corporate landlords, and mega-developers fought us at every turn,” the group wrote in a statement shared with the media. “Our broad-based coalition — made up of homeless and formerly homeless people, union members, faith leaders, social service providers, community organizations and grassroots volunteers — is determined to keep fighting for housing justice.”

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