Champaign County Voting on Sales Tax for Schools

McHenry County Blog alerted readers to the new law allowing school districts to seek a sales tax to finance repairing and building schools way back in late January.

Lake County flirted with the idea, but nothing has appeared about discussions locally in any of the local newspapers.

The major problem with the tax is that once it is approved, it stays forever.

At least, that’s my interpretation. Once bonds are sold, since the tax is pledged to repay them, any area that votes for the tax is stuck.

So locally, with Mayor Aaron Shepley’s city council already having hiked the city sales tax 75% (no problem—Algonquin’s is as high), any increase for schools brings use still closer to challenging Chicago for the highest sales tax in the country.

A one cent sales tax increase is on the ballot in Champaign County and, thanks to Illini Pundit here are arguments pro and con presented by the local chamber of commerce.

Reasons to Cast a “Yes” Vote

  • If passed, will provide a guaranteed funding stream for the ongoing maintenance of facilities that are currently paid for by property taxes;
  • It may help schools to become more energy efficient and be usable longer;
  • There is a potential decrease in property taxes;
  • Improved facilities may help with recruitment and retention of quality educators;
  • It may help to solve many of the maintenance issues in many of the school districts and lessens the need for schools to seek future referendums;
  • It may free up other monies in school districts’ budgets that could be applied to educational programming;
  • Improved facilities could potentially draw new families resulting in additional workforce talent for other area employers.

Reasons to Cast a “No” Vote

  • This is a tax increase, not a tax swap. Property tax abatements are not guaranteed under this law and a sitting school board can not bind future boards to promises they made;
  • There is no adequate sunset provision in the legislation. If passed, the additional one cent sales tax will be in place indefinitely;
  • It does not solve all of the capital needs of the school districts. School districts can and will seek future property tax referendums for large-scale projects;
  • While the tax increase may alleviate the financial burden on district budgets for physical facilities, it does not address educational programming, and proof of a correlation between maintained facilities and improved educational performance has not been presented;
  • There may be less accountability by the schools to the voters. The residents will no longer have a vote on how large sums of tax dollars will be spent on capital maintenance issues;
  • There is no mechanism in the current law which prevents the state from withholding state capital funds from communities that pass this sales tax;
  • There is a lack of empirical data to prove that newer quality facilities will drive economic development and bring new business to our community.

Locally, State Senator Pam Althoff and Chris Lauzen voted “No,” while State Senator Bill Peterson voted “Yes” on the final 31-24 vote.

The bill passed the Illinois House 74-41. State Representative Jack Franks and Mike Tryon voted against the bill. Mark Beaubien was listed as not voting. Tim Schmitz voted “Yes.”

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