Editorials

Sheriff looks to bump sales tax to educate in favor of tax to incarcerate

Voters in April may be asked to impose a sales tax to create classrooms for students or cells for criminals.
Voters in April may be asked to impose a sales tax to create classrooms for students or cells for criminals. News-Democrat

Cops or teachers. Cells or classrooms. Career criminals or career advancement.

St. Clair County schools plan to ask for a penny sales tax for school construction. Sheriff Rick Watson wants the same thing for a jail expansion and public safety costs that our bankrupt state is shirking.

There is no way voters are going to approve both in April. Watson doesn’t think it’s much of a contest as to which tax should be on the ballot.

“Look at your tax bill. I could tell this, I paid $5,000 in (property) taxes; $68 went to the county,” Watson said. “I could tell you $4,000 went to the schools. That would be my answer to that. The primary focus of any government is public safety. If you don’t have public safety, you’re not going to go to the grocery store. You don’t feel safe going there.”

Schools have been debating the request for the sales tax increase, but enough districts have signed off on it to allow the increase to be placed on the April 4 ballot.

The school tax would be an easier sell if districts pledge that the new money will offset property taxes. So far that doesn’t seem to be a popular move among school leaders.

Whether we wind up voting for cells or classrooms, leaders should stop making it sound like outsiders at the mall will shoulder this tax burden. Outsiders might pay some, but it’s wishful thinking and a false selling point because the bulk will come from local residents.

Voters already said “no” back in 2014 when St. Clair County sought 25 years of sales tax money for a new jail. Expanding the departments receiving cash and cutting the time to 12 years might help, but what would help more is doing what the schools should do and promise a property tax offset.

Sales taxes for crumbling shopping centers, sales taxes for soccer parks, sales taxes atop sales taxes for public safety or schools — whether on your property or your income or your purchases, they remain taxes and people are weary of the continuous asks.

If Watson needs $6 million or $7 million a year, it already exists in the county budget. Maybe he should tell his boss that the primary focus of any government is public safety.

Yes, public safety. Not dumping all your cash into a losing proposition near Mascoutah where your sunniest projection is that you will lose less.

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