Some groups trying to get referendum on Chicago real estate taxes off March primary ballot

Sarah Schulte Image
Tuesday, January 9, 2024
Some groups trying to get rid of Chicago real estate tax referendum
Some construction and real estate groups are trying to get the Bring Home Chicago referendum off the Illinois primary 2024 ballot.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A legal battle is brewing over a plan to increase real estate taxes on properties over $1 million in Chicago.

Construction and real estate groups are trying to get the "Bring Home Chicago" referendum off the March primary ballot.

Bouncing back from COVID has been an uphill battle for downtown Chicago.

A developer's rule of thumb is for every crane in the air, a thousand construction workers are employed.

"One time, we had 45 cranes downtown; now, we have six or nine. That's a lot of people not working," said Theresa Kern, owner of MA Rebar Services.

Kern predicts the situation will only get worse if voters approve a binding referendum that raises the real estate transfer tax for properties over $1 million for 43 years.

Kern has owned a company that employs union iron workers.

"I know it will definitely hurt my business," Kern said.

On behalf of the Women Construction Owners and Executives, Kern and a coalition of Chicago developers and real estate groups have filed a lawsuit hoping to knock the question off the March ballot.

They said it will not only hurt downtown businesses but people who own multi-unit buildings in the neighborhoods.

"I think it is a Hail Mary from some very rich and powerful building owners; they have tried to find every which way to block this proposal from moving forward," 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa said.

Denying it's a last act of desperation, the coalition of groups say the three-part question posed to voters violates the state constitution.

While two questions ask about the tax increase, the other is tax decrease for properties under $1 million. The lawsuit plaintiffs say including the decrease is a way of manipulating voters into approving the tax increase, known as political log rolling.

"The language of the referendum is very clear; it's very precise. It's very direct," Ramirez-Rosa said.

Referendum backer Ramirez-Rosa is confident the referendum is legally sound.

He said the money generated from the transfer tax increase will be earmarked to house and provide services for the homeless.

If the referendum stays on the ballot as it is currently written and voters approve it, Ramirez-Rosa said he hopes City Council will pass it in the spring.