St. Clair County took our advice and added a sunset clause to the proposed 1/4-cent sales tax to fund a jail renovation. While that's better than the original proposal of a permanent tax, it's not exactly what we had in mind.
The tax, if approved by St. Clair County voters in March, will sunset after 25 years. If politicians in 2039 want to keep it -- and they will -- they will have to take ownership and vote to extend the tax.
However, we wanted the sales tax to sunset once the jail bonds were repaid. Clearly this tax is intended to fund much more than the capital project.
A 1/4-cent tax for levee repairs generated $5.38 million in St. Clair County in 2012. At that rate, the jail tax would generate $134.5 million over 25 years, or 3.6 times the renovation costs.
Board member Nick Miller, of Lebanon, said he voted against putting the referendum on the ballot because the wording is so vague. Indeed, county leaders basically will be getting a blank check for public safety if this is approved.
County Board member Frank Heiligenstein, of Freeburg, said that half of the public safety taxes put on the ballot in Illinois have been defeated. If St. Clair County hopes to end up on the winning side of the ledger, county leaders will have to use the next several months to explain to voters exactly how they intend to use all that money.