Battle over Chicago real estate transfer tax referendum heads to higher court

Craig Wall Image
Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Battle over Chicago real estate tax referendum heads to higher court
As early voting continues, the city filed a motion to stay a judge's order on the Bring Chicago Home referendum, on the real estate transfer tax.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The fight over a ballot referendum to provide money to help the unhoused is now headed to a higher court.

Last Friday, a circuit court judge ruled the question was unconstitutional. But now the city is trying to intervene and get that ruling overturned.

The fight over the Bring Chicago Home referendum will now be taken up by a higher court after the formal ruling came out Monday.

The Building Owners and Managers Association, or BOMA, had sued the Chicago Board of Elections to knock the referendum off the ballot.

The three-question referendum asks voters to raise the transfer tax for properties that sell for over a million dollars, while lowering it for those that sell for less.

The measure would have raised the transfer tax from its current flat rate of 0.75% to 2% for properties valued at more than $1 million and 3% for properties valued at more than $1.5 million.

A judge's written ruling issued Monday sided with BOMA, and also ordered the Board of Elections not to count the votes or publish any vote totals.

The city quickly moved to intervene and appealed the case. It also filed a motion to stay the judge's ruling Friday.

READ MORE: Homeless advocates speak out in support of Bring Chicago Home referendum; attack ad critiques

"I believe that the people of Chicago deserve an opportunity to weigh in on this on this question. So, the city of Chicago, we're going to do everything in our power legally, working in collaboration with other people, want to see this come into fruition," Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said.

The measure aimed to raise $100 million to help people experiencing homelessness. But one election law expert said it was flawed from the beginning.

"The ruling is correct, that the referendum question should be off the ballot. The reasoning, which I don't find in the order, but the reasoning is that you cannot put more than one question within one question," election attorney Burt Odelson said.

But the attorney for the Bring Chicago Home committee disagrees, and believes the referendum will be ruled valid on appeal.

"So, the election is going forward, and people are voting, and those votes are, they're not being counted, but they're being recorded. So, if you vote on your paper ballot, if you vote on your electronic ballot, the board is is banking those votes," attorney Ed Mullen said.

The Board of Elections is reviewing the ruling to decide if it will appeal, and that decision could come as soon as Tuesday.

RELATED: Chicago City Council approves putting Bring Chicago Home referendum on March 2024 ballot

But the city is also asking to be made a party to the case, so it will have legal standing to make an appeal.

"I think it's an unhealthy precedent when judges make a decision to not allow the people of Chicago to cast their votes," Johnson said.

It's not clear how long the appeals process will take, but the courts are well aware of the primary, which is now just three weeks away.

But with more than 1,000 votes already cast, and the question still appearing on the ballots now, what are voters to think or do?

A spokesperson for the Chicago Board of Elections issued a statement on Saturday, saying, "Any previous votes for the referendum are sequestered and will not be counted at this time. This is subject to change by future court order. "

Meanwhile, supporters of the referendum are not giving up.

"The referendum is still on the ballot; no one should stop voting in favor of the referendum," Mullen said.