Editorials

Specifics, please, before asking voters to impose a sales tax for school construction

If school boards representing half the students in St. Clair County agree to ask, voters on April 4 will decide whether to tax themselves an extra penny on every dollar they spend. The money can only be used for school construction, debt on improvements and related fixes.
If school boards representing half the students in St. Clair County agree to ask, voters on April 4 will decide whether to tax themselves an extra penny on every dollar they spend. The money can only be used for school construction, debt on improvements and related fixes. bweisenstein@bnd.com

St. Clair County’s schools dropped back from the November election and punted the 1 percent sales tax until April. That was a good move.

The tax intended to help schools pay for construction or debt from building improvements would have been lost on the same ballot with president and Congress and state lawmakers and a state constitutional amendment. Moving the tax question to the April 4 municipal elections gives everyone more time to ask questions and make their cases for and against the tax.

Issues that need exploring start with how the countywide 1 percent sales tax increase will impact property taxes. Belleville Elementary District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said the sales tax increase could also mean property taxes don’t need to be increased to pay off existing debt.

Taxpayers would be much more supportive of a formula or promise. Instead of “could also mean,” it would be reassuring to see “will.” Tell property taxpayers that if Belleville schools or any other school districts receive $2 million from the sales tax, that the board promises to give up the next $2 million in property tax increases.

It would also be smart to stop trying to sell this as a tax that outsiders pay. Yes, some sales are made to people from outside the county, but don’t kid taxpayers that this isn’t a new tax on them. It is a tax, but one over which consumers have some control by deciding how much they spend and where. Property taxes are imposed and only controlled by moving.

Another issue is equity. The sales tax is divided per student, but needs are greater in some districts than others. Is an across the county sales tax the fairest way to provide construction funds?

Districts representing half the countywide enrollment must support the sales tax before the question goes on the ballot. Specifics and promises would go a long way toward building support.

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