Primary concerns: Local issues, offices on Tuesday's ballot

Primary concerns: Local issues, offices on Tuesday's ballot

November 6th, it's not. But eight months before we find out who'll call the Governor's Mansion home the next four years, there's a lot on the line locally in Tuesday's precursor to the general election. To set the mood, we present our 2018 ILLINOIS PRIMARY PRIMER, in question-and-answer form.

Will Monticello schools' third attempt to win over voters go as well as Champaign's did 16 months ago?

District officials sure hope so — for the sake of some fifth-graders at Washington Elementary (housed in a classroom built in 1893), the comfort of special ed life skills students (among eight high school classes held in an elementary building, requiring a trip outside), and the health of anyone who uses the boys' locker room under Moore Gym (you don't want to know).

Of the 178 public school structures in the five-county area, 19 were built before 1924. Four of the 19 are in the Monticello district. That's double the number in Unit 4.

"When I look at the district, our financials are solid, our kids do well on their standardized tests, they go to college, they do well on the ACT, our teachers do a great job, our families are supportive. Our athletics and music and activities do great," Superintendent Vic Zimmerman says.

"The only thing that's left is facilities, and I think our students deserve better facilities. I think our parents deserve better facilities."

After striking out with voters in 2014 and 2016, the district lowered its ask — from $40 million to $40.9 million to $29.8 million, and from building a brand-new high school to rehabbing the high school/Washington Elementary campus.

Even the pitch to taxpayers has been dialed down, with yard signs going from "Vote Yes" on previous ballot tries to simply "Vote," with a subhead of "Your Voice. Your Choice."

Says Monticello Ref2018 spokeswoman Stefanie McLeese: "The last couple of attempts were a little divisive, which isn't unique to Monticello. ... We agreed we had to get respectful of people's decisions."

 

Go figure: Primary numbers of note

400: About how many student Democrats cast early votes last Tuesday on campus, says Illini Democrats President Anusha Thotakura. That's double the amount of 2004 and reason to believe this week's spring break won't translate to paltry turnout totals for UI students. Jack Johnson, president of the Illini Republicans, says he was equally encouraged by the early effort.

10: Candidates for attorney general — including Urbana's Erika Harold, who faces Gary Grasso in the GOP primary. Her chances from there? "Good, although it depends on who her Democratic opponent is," says N-G political insider Tom Kacich. "I think she'd have a great chance against Pat Quinn. If it's Kwame Raoul or Scott Drury or Sharon Fairley, she wouldn't have quite the advantage. Personally, I think female voters are especially energized this year, and Harold could benefit."

$280 million: The unofficial record for the most expensive gubernatorial race in U.S. history, set in 2010 in California (Jerry Brown over Meg Whitman). If Illinois gets a matchup of millionaire Bruce Rauner vs. billionaire J.B. Pritzker, many expect a new spending record to be set. "It's just stunning. It is just mind-blowing," retired state Rep. Bill Black says of the money likely to be spent.

 

Will the tiny village of Potomac (pop. 710) have a library at this time next year?

Approaching its 80th birthday, the popular destination for grown-ups (172 books checked out in 2017) and children (163) alike could soon close its doors if voters don't come to the rescue Tuesday.

On the ballot in the Vermilion County village is a measure that would create a Potomac library district to enable taxing authority. Up until now, Library Director Elizabeth Osborn says, the village board has been providing the library $6,000 annually, but that's no longer feasible given all the other expenses it's responsible for, board President Roger Porter says.

Library Trustee Sharita Forrest says this marks the first library referendum in the village since the mid-1990s. That try failed, leading it to drop out of what was then known as the Lincoln Trails system, which networks with libraries in the state to allow for shared resources such as books and movies.

If this ballot try fares better, a tax of 15 cents per $100 of assessed valuation would generate a little more than $30,000 for the library. In addition to funding expenses, that would be more than enough to cover the one-time cost of $4,000 and annual fee of about $1,100 to join what's now known as the Illinois Heartland Library System.

Based on the feedback she received at two recent meetings in town, Osborn remains optimistic.

"I feel like it's going to happen," she says. "We're going to keep going."

 

Will Danville soon join Chicago as the Illinois cities with the highest sales-tax rate?

That's one outcome if enough Vermilion voters sign off Tuesday on a 1-cent county schools facility tax.

Another: It would give the county's 11 public school districts a much-needed revenue stream for addressing building needs.

Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer says he understands the importance of "strong, functioning schools" and appreciates what educators are trying to do. But a city sales-tax rate of 10.25 percent — making it the highest in the state alongside Chicago — would be "detrimental" to Danville's ability to retain existing businesses, attract new ones and provide services to residents, he says.

Eisenhauer says he's heard many concerns "from every retailer from the mom-and-pop to national chains" over the city's last sales tax increase, which funded demolitions and storm-water management.

"Increasing it by another full percent would likely cause considerable panic," he says. "Not only is the concern that people may drive elsewhere to do their shopping, but it will also make any retailer who is considering locating here think twice."

If approved, the increase would take effect in July, and school districts would begin receiving payments, which are based on enrollment, around November.

Each school board would decide how to spend the money, which can only be used for construction; renovation; maintenance and repairs; improving energy efficiency, infrastructure technology and/or security; and paying off building bond debt, which would allow districts to abate property taxes. The money could not be used to pay salaries, supplies or textbooks.

While it wouldn't affect Danville, Westville Superintendent Seth Miller pointed out that the majority of the districts that have established plans on how they would use the money have identified property tax relief as their top priority.

School officials said most districts struggle to keep up with rising costs due to the state's ongoing financial crisis. One challenge: how to deal with aging buildings — and technology and security demands.

Their only other source of income is via property taxes.

The 1-cent tax "gives us another source of revenue where more than just property owners are pitching in," Miller said.

Illinois voters have had the option to approve the penny tax since 2007. Since then, 49 counties — including Champaign, Douglas and Piatt — have been collecting it.

"Champaign is right next door," says Salt Fork Superintendent Phil Cox. "You can look at their school facilities and see the impact that tax has had and the disadvantage to Vermilion County."

 

District distribution

Here's how much each Vermilion County school district is estimated to receive each year from a 1-cent county sales tax increase. (For a full breakdown of their top funding priorities, visit news-gazette.com):

Danville: $2.5 million — High priority: Address aging facilities and beef up security.

Westville: $550,000 — High priority: Pay down debt, cut property taxes and make preventative repairs, including HVAC system controls at all schools.

Hoopeston: $436,000 — High priority: Pay off debt, cut property taxes by about 8% and create a STEM lab, add parking and replace gym at high school.

Georgetown-Ridge Farm: $433,000 — High priority: Pay down debt, cut property taxes, make windows/doors energy-efficient, pave lots, improve security and fields.

Oakwood: $421,000 — High priority: Abate $50,000 to $100,000 on annual levy, upgrade all buildings' wiring.

Bismarck-Henning: $375,000 — High priority: Use half of money each year to pay off bond debt and cut property taxes.

Salt Fork: $372,000 — High priority: Freeze property tax rate by using money to fund pay-as-you-go projects.

Rossville-Alvin: $130,000 — High priority: Use 25% of funds to pay down debt; cut property taxes next 3 years.

Potomac: $74,000 — High priority: Pay down debt, cut property taxes, modernize library.

Armstrong Township: $39,000 — High priority: Pay off debt, then replace boiler with energy-efficient HVAC system.

Armstrong-Ellis: $27,000 — High priority: Pay off debt, then make building modifications, as needed.

 

The experts say ...

Assuming he beats primary challenger Jeanne Ives, how vulnerable will Gov. Bruce Rauner be when he faces Democrat TBD in November?

N-G columnist JIM DEY says: In my view, Gov. Rauner is not just vulnerable in the November election, he's the underdog.

He starts from behind because he's a Republican in a solid Democratic state. A Democratic candidate can win a statewide election by taking a solid majority in Cook County and losing every other of the state's 101 counties.

Further complicating his electoral problems is that Rauner — for a variety of reasons, some not his fault — has had a rocky tenure that makes Illinoisans very unhappy with state government.

They'll be inclined to take it out on him unless Rauner can offer a compelling reason to give him another chance or persuade voters that the alternative is worse.

 

Which of the five Democrats on Tuesday's ballot would pose the biggest threat to U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis' 13th Congressional District seat come November?

N-G political insider TOM KACICH says: If Democrats could come up with a candidate with Jon Ebel's speaking skills, Betsy Londrigan's fundraising prowess and Erik Jones' résumé, they'd have a heckuva candidate to oppose Davis and his million-dollar campaign fund.

But they only get one. Londrigan may be superior because of her gender, her connections and her ability to raise money.

Should I ever trust election polls again after what happened on Nov. 8, 2016?

UI political science Professor BRIAN GAINES says: Healthy skepticism is warranted; total cynicism would be an over-reaction. Here are a few pointers:

1. Large percentages choosing "don't know" or refusing to answer a question make predictions harder.

2. Don't forget the margins of error, the "plus or minus" part — 45% +/- 3% doesn't mean that we're certain the true proportion is in between 42 and 48, only that we are pretty confident that it is in that range. About five such results in each 100 will be wrong.

3. Moreover, that confidence is misplaced if people willing to respond to pollsters differ from those unwilling to do so in hard-to-spot ways. It is not too tricky to correct for demographics, as when a sample is too female or too old, relative to the population. It is much harder to adjust appropriately for attitudinal discrepancies, as when a sample is too liberal or too enthusiastic.

4. Large discrepancies across distinct polls are useful flags that caution is in order. But many very similar polls can all be wrong, especially when systematic bias is at work.

5. Not all of the mistaken predictions of Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump can be attributed to bad polls.

For instance, many of the national polls were about right. She did ultimately win more votes nationwide, and the big goof was treating a forecast of popular-vote victory as meaningful, given that victory is made in the electoral college.

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