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Mayor Johnson reacts to judge tossing referendum on tax hike to fight homelessness; appeal filed

Mayor reacts after 'Bring Chicago Home' initiative suffers setback
Mayor reacts after 'Bring Chicago Home' initiative suffers setback 02:56

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The effort to help fund Chicago's homeless problem by increasing taxes on ownership changes for million-dollar homes - known as "Bring Chicago Home" - was dealt a significant setback by a Cook County judge this past Friday.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Burke ruled the controversial Bring Chicago Home ballot referendum is invalid.

The city has filed an appeal to the ruling.

Meanwhile, Mayor Brandon Johnson reacted publicly on Monday for the first time to the judge's ruling against his $100 million effort. The mayor said the fight is not over.

Transfer tax money is the revenue the city gets when a home sells. The legal issue: the mayor wants to increase the percentage for million-dollar home sales and drop it for less expensive home sales. Under the proposal, 93 percent of Chicago homes would see a decrease in their transfer tax.

Critics called the ballot question unconstitutional and argued that it violated state law by asking voters to approve both a tax cut and tax hike simultaneously. Opponents said such a move is considered "log-rolling" - where unpopular legislation is bundled with more attractive elements to secure success.

For example, the seller of a property that sells for $1.2 million now pays $9,000 in transfer taxes. Under the revised proposal, that would rise to $10,000 - with the higher tax rate of 2% applied to just $200,000 of the sale price, according to the proposal.

Judge Burke ruled against City Hall, though she did not explain her reasoning for finding the referendum to be invalid.  

"If the mayor really does want to push this progressive agenda, he needs to be more careful about the basic ins and outs of how to pass legislation," said David Greising, president and chief executive officer of the Better Government Association.  

Complicating this matter is that the Bring Home Chicago referendum has already been printed on the ballot. Some who voted early or by mail have already made a choice.

Judge Burke said votes on this matter on those ballots should not be counted.

Mayor Johnson reacts to tossing of 'Bring Chicago Home' ballot initiative 02:15

What is less clear is why Judge Burke decided against the referendum – which will be critical as the city and the Chicago Board of Elections will likely begin the process of appealing all the ruling.

The effort to stop Bring Chicago Home was led by the Chicago Building Owners and Managers Association – which says its passage would torpedo an already-struggling commercial real estate market in Chicago.

"I mean, of course, I was disappointed. You know, again, people deserve the opportunity to express their views," Mayor Johnson said Monday, "and I think it's an unhealthy precedent when judges make a decision to not allow the people of Chicago to cast their votes."

So, what happens next? The agency being taken to court is the city's Board of Elections, which runs elections in Chicago. The board is set to meet on Tuesday to plot out next steps.

"Votes will be taken, but not counted, in the March 19th primary," Greising said. "Those, presumably, records would be retained, and if the judge's ruling is reversed, those votes would be there to be counted."

On Friday, the city also filed a motion to stay the order.

Meanwhile, the mayor said his legal teams are working to revive this issue – as Bring Chicago Home is one of the cornerstone promises that he announced on his first day as mayor.

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