Construction companies have contributed the bulk of money to political campaigns that are pushing for passage of sales tax referendums that would help local schools build facilities.
The 1 percent increases in the sales tax are on the April 4 ballot in St. Clair and Madison counties.
A handful of campaign committees supporting or opposing the referendums have formed ahead of the April 4 election, according to State Board of Elections records.
At least three groups have filed paperwork: Citizens for St. Clair County Schools, a group supporting the tax increase in St. Clair County; Citizens for Madison County Schools, a group supporting the tax increase in Madison County; and Madison County Citizens for Sustainable Education, which is against the tax increase.
A formal organization pushing a separate 1 percent sales tax increase to bolster public safety, Yes for Public Safety in St. Clair County, also has formed, but it has not filed any formal paperwork because it has not yet raised enough money, said committee chairman James Hendricks.
The sales tax increases wouldn’t apply to purchases such as medication, groceries, services or titled vehicles.
School districts could only use the new tax revenue for specific infrastructure costs — upgrades, new construction, maintenance, etc. — and for paying off existing construction debt. Advocates say using the sales tax revenue to repay debt instead of property taxes would allow districts to offer relief to residents.
Citizens for St. Clair County Schools has reported $25,000 in contributions, according state records. Contributions of $1,000 and more have to be reported immediately to the state. Donations of lesser amounts can be included in the organization’s quarterly reports, which also include an organization’s expenses for the quarter.
Holland has contributed $5,000 each to the St. Clair County and Madison County efforts, according to the State Board of Elections.
Poettker has put in $10,000 toward the St. Clair County effort, state records show.
“Education, to us, is the most important,” said Charles Poettker, the CEO of the construction company. “If we could get our children educated, they’ll make better employees when entering the job market.”
“We have a pretty prominent position in the market,” Poettker added. “This is an investment in our name. We’ve got a pretty good reputation in the metropolitan area. We want to make sure that reputation stays ... that’s why the size of the donation.”
Poettker Construction carries out school-construction projects along with other types of work, and is licensed in 20 states.
Poettker said the situation in Springfield hurts schools that want to start building projects.
“School districts have pent-up demand for projects that they want to do and can’t get them funded,” Poettker said.
Control Technology Solutions, a company that develops and implements energy-efficiency projects, has given financial support in favor of the Madison County school facility referendum.
Citizens for Madison County Schools also has received money from the Alton Band and Orchestra Builders group, which supports the Alton Community School District 11 music program, as well as the Triad Education Association, the teachers’ union in the Triad school district.
Jeff Hewitt, of Troy, is the chairman of the Citizens for Madison County Schools. He said the $11,500 raised so far has been used for yard signs, mailers and to put up a website, onecentmakessense.org.
“We weren’t sure we would have the money,” Hewitt said of the abbreviated campaign.
Are the efforts working in Madison County, where a school facilities sales referendum failed by a four-to-one margin in 2011?
“I’m surprised how often I speak to individuals who don’t know the details,” Hewitt said.
He added the property tax reduction could more than offset how much more people would pay in sales taxes.
Keith Melton, of Troy, is the chairman of the Madison County Citizens for Sustainable Education, which is campaigning against the school sales tax effort.
He said the group’s money would be used to promote their message on social media, and possibly yards signs.
“The whole issue is it will never go away. The promise of reduced property taxes are a pipe dream,” Melton said.
“They have plenty of money now for needs,” Erb said. “Everyone wants the best for kids. What needs to happen is some frugality and management in funds they’ve got.”
Erb has donated $3,500 to the Madison County Citizens for Sustainable Education effort.
He also said he’s not supporting the public safety sales tax in St. Clair County.
“They’re playing on people’s fear with the public safety tax,” Erb said.
The large equipment his businesses sell would be subject to the sales taxes being proposed, he said.
He said the differential that already exists between this area and sales taxes in other areas would only increase.
Sales tax on some of his items could be several hundred dollars.
“If you buy a $10,000 item, you’re not going to spend $500 more just because it’s local,” Erb said.
Erb said he viewed the contributions as a way to help keep his businesses going.
“I feel like they’re stealing my business away from me,” Erb said.
“I’m trying to retain the business I’ve got,” he added.
He said the higher sales tax would drive business away.
“Will we close our doors? Probably not, but we certainly will struggle,” Erb said.
Proponents of the St. Clair County school facilities sales tax have received contributions from Massachusetts-based Ameresco, a company that provides energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions, and Missouri-based Trane, a company that provides heating and cooling equipment and systems.
Bob Mueller, chairman of Citizens for St. Clair County Schools, said money raised is going toward newspaper advertising, video production and fliers in order to promote the proposed tax increase.
The school sales tax promoters have also combined efforts with those promoting the public safety sales tax increase, and share a Facebook page to share information.
Mueller said there isn’t enough money to do any polling to see if the efforts are working.
“We take people’s temperature. People in every school district all are doing a little different stuff,” Mueller said. “How effective it is will be determined on April 4th or 5th when we get final results.”
Kirk Brueggeman, the treasurer of the group, said when counting all of the donations under $1,000, the group has raised a total of roughly $26,000 so far.
He said the plan is to spend everything that is brought in.
“We hope for the best and hope we’ve used the money the best way we can and get the most return for our investment,” Brueggeman said.
Referendum campaign contributions
Citizens for St. Clair County Schools
Ameresco Inc., Framingham, Mass.
Holland Construction Services, Inc. in Swansea
Poettker Construction, in Breese
Matt Stines, superintendent, Grant School District 110
Trane, of Chesterfield, Missouri
Environmental Consultants, LLC of Collinsville
Citizens for Madison County Schools
Alton Band and Orchestra Builders
Control Technology & Solutions in St. Louis
Holland Construction Services, Inc. in Swansea
Triad Education Association
Madison County Citizens for Sustainable Education
Bold Enterprises Inc. in Edwardsville
Erb Equipment Company of Illinois, in Mitchell
Source: Illinois State Board of Elections