Q: In your most recent Sound Off column, one of your anonymous callers claimed that if both local sales tax proposals pass on April 4, Belleville would be among metro-east cities that would have the highest sales tax in the nation. Can that possibly be true?
T.H., of Belleville
A: It would be close — but no cigar.
A handful of small towns in Tennessee and Arkansas have combined sales tax rates of 12 percent, according to the Tax Foundation, an independent tax policy research organization in Washington, D.C. (taxfoundation.org). However, the foundation points out, Tennessee does not have a state income tax on wages, only interest and dividend income, so it has to rely more on its sales tax for funding.
If St. Clair County voters approve the two penny hikes this spring (one for school construction and debt and the other for law enforcement), Belleville shoppers will be paying an 11.1 percent sales tax rate in at least six special business districts — Belleville Crossing, Green Mount Commons, Eckert’s, Shopland Plaza, Market Place Shopping Center and the new hotel-restaurant-sportsplex development across from the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. Elsewhere in the city, the rate will rise to 10.1 percent. The new taxes will not apply to groceries, pharmaceuticals or vehicles.
That 11.1 percent rate, however, will top Chicago, which holds the dubious distinction of having the highest sales tax of any major city in the country. When the Cook County commissioners approved a 1 percent increase in the county sales tax effective Jan. 1, 2016, to fund teacher pensions, it boosted the Windy City’s tax rate to 10.25 percent. That’s a combination of 6.25 percent state, 1.75 percent county, 1.25 percent city and 1 percent “special,” according to the Tax Foundation.
“Chicago stands out because it’s a high sales tax amidst a sea of high taxes, even with the partial sunsets of the 2011 Illinois tax hikes,” the Tax Foundation’s Jared Walczak noted in 2015 when Cook County passed the increase. And as you may be aware, the income tax “sunset” may be short-lived because increase proposals are floating around the Illinois Legislature as the state tries to solve its financial mess.
As for the sales tax, other St. Clair residents may face even higher rates if the two new proposals pass, because the average sales tax in St. Clair County would rise to 10.47 percent. Four large cities in Alabama — Birmingham, Montgomery, Macon and Mobile — trail Chicago at 10 percent, according to the foundation.
Q: Will President Trump’s White House continue to send cards to people having birthdays, anniversaries, etc.?
A: Yes, but for the moment the new administration is making it a little harder for tech-savvy citizens to request these popular greetings from the chief executive and his wife.
As part of the presidential transition, the White House website has at least temporarily removed pages referring to the White House Greetings Office, including the online greeting-card request form and instructions. Until it reappears, you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way — typing a request, licking an envelope, sticking on a stamp and sending it to Greetings Office, in care of the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C. 20500.
Here’s the nitty-gritty of how to get one of these treasures that may have started in the late 1870s when Rutherford B. Hayes started sending admirers a simple card emblazoned with “Executive Mansion, Washington” and signed and dated in his loopy handwriting: Requests should be made at least six weeks in advance of an event date, more if possible. Greetings are generally not sent after an event, except for wedding congratulations and newborn acknowledgments. You also must be a U.S. citizen.
Anniversary greetings will be sent to couples who are celebrating a 50th, 60th and 70th or later wedding anniversary. Birthday greetings will be sent only to people turning 80 or older or veterans turning 70 or older. In addition, greetings can be requested for a wedding (but please do not send a request until after the ceremony), significant graduations, a baby’s birth or adoption of a child, retirement after at least 30 years with the same employer, Eagle and Girl Scout Gold awards and bar/bat mitzvahs or equivalent religious occasions.
Please include the following: name and home address of the honoree; the proper form of address (Mr., Ms., Dr., etc.); the exact date of the occasion (month-day-year); the age (birthday) or number of years (anniversaries); your name and daytime phone number; and special mailing instructions if to other than the honoree’s address. If it’s a wedding, include the couple’s names and current or new address.
Usually, cards will arrive within six weeks, but sometimes it will take longer, which is why you should get your request in as soon as possible.
“For example, at one point during the first term of the Obama administration, the Greetings Office announced it was ‘swamped’ with requests and stated that it could take ‘several months’ for requests to reach the Greetings Office and be mailed out,” Robert Longley wrote at usgovinfo.about.com.
So if you don’t trust Trump’s people to have their act together quite yet, you might want to submit your request through the constituent services office of your federal representative or senator.
What is the most populous island in the United States?
Answer to Friday’s trivia:
If you’re a fan of the spice saffron, you might be surprised to learn that almost all of the world’s supply comes from one country: Iran. About 250 tons is sold each year and 90 percent is produced in Iran in a tradition that dates back 3,000 years. It’s also the most expensive spice in the world — about $65 per gram, $1,850 per ounce, or about $30,000 per pound. That steep price, however, is understandable once you learn that workers have to hand-pick 200,000 delicate red strands from about 70,000 Crocus sativa flowers for every pound.