Voters in Douglas County are being asked to pay a higher sales tax to support their schools.
With the economy operating in slow motion, it's not a great time to ask voters to approve a tax increase. Nonetheless, school officials in Douglas County are asking in the April 9 election for the public to approve a 1-cent increase in the sales tax with the proceeds to be used for school improvements.
Under the plan, the revenue would be divided among the county's various school districts based on school enrollment. Despite these troubled economic times, The News-Gazette urges voters to approve the sales tax increase.
We are not operating under the illusion that another tax increase, even a relatively modest one, will go down easy among some voters. But schools are important to their communities for a variety of reasons, and they must be maintained.
Given the state's ongoing financial disaster, it's pretty obvious that more state support will not be forthcoming. Indeed, because of years of financial mismanagement, the state is not able to keep up with the appropriations that Gov. Pat Quinn and legislators have pledged.
Backers of the plan have offered voters some sweeteners.
For starters, if the 1-cent increase is approved, Tuscola will repeal the 1/2-cent sales tax increase that went into effect in July 2012 to benefit the city's school district. That tax, passed under the city's home rule authority, has generated nearly $290,000 in its first six months. So essentially, Tuscola shoppers, trading a 1/2-cent increase for a 1-cent increase, would see a 1/2-cent increase if voters approve the plan. Throughout the rest of the county, voters would see the full 1-cent increase.
School officials say they also may use a portion of the revenues generated by the sales tax to pay off bonds issued for previous construction projects, a move that would result in a property tax cut. Voters, however, should take these pledges with a grain of salt.
Whatever elected officials may say in pursuit of public support for the sales tax increase, they are not bound by anything other than their word about early payment of bonds. Further, the promises of one or two members or even a full school board do not bind future board members. That's why these kinds of pledges often amount to little more than a bait-and-switch offering.
A 1-cent sales tax hike may seem to some people to be relatively insignificant. But pennies add up quickly to dollars — lots of them.
Villa Grove estimates that the tax hike would generate nearly $350,000 a year for its school district. Arcola estimates it would produce nearly $400,000 a year.
In a time of decreased state support and rising costs, taxpayers have to step up to the plate if they wish to maintain their schools. We urge the voters of Douglas County to vote yes for the sales tax and yes for their schools.