Belleville, IL – St. Clair County union leaders are helping in the push for a 1 percent sales tax for school construction and repairs, which is on the April 4 ballot along with a 1 percent sales tax proposal for public safety.
School supporters had planned to put their tax plan on the ballot in November but decided it might not fare as well in that election and put it off until April.
Meanwhile, public safety officers decided it was time to go ahead with the second tax increase proposal.
John Barger, Fairview Heights field services director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, presented the proposals to the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council, which is considering whether to endorse them.
Barger said school tax supporters have decided to campaign for both increases rather than pit one against the other.
“We can’t fight these two out. We can’t say one over the other. We’ve got to support them both,” he said. “It’s two cents – it’s not a lot of money, unless you buy a lot of things. It could raise a lot of money.”
A talking point for both proposals is that an estimated 40 percent of sales tax money in St. Clair County is paid by people from outside the county using St. Clair Square and the county’s other retail outlets.
The school money could be used for new facilities, additions, renovations, entrances, maintenance, safety, fire prevention, land, roofing and other building-related expenses – but not for teaching, buses, furniture, books, salaries and other on-going expenses. It would be distributed by the regional schools office based on numbers of students. An estimated $25 million a year would be available.
“We have schools that have tiles falling down and leaking roofs,” Barger said. “This money is going to go straight to that. Having safer, stronger, better schools makes sense to me. It could put a lot of people to work.”
NOT FOR SALARIES
“I think there’s a good point to be made here,” noted Bill Thurston, president of the Council. “With a lot of people, the first thing they think about with a tax increase is that it’s to increase somebody’s salary. But this specifies where it can go and where it can’t go.”
The public safety money would be distributed to cities, villages, fire protection districts and the county based on population. It would include a $6 million renovation of the county jail and $1 million to improve courthouse security.
“There are going to be jobs from that construction, too,” Barger noted.
The public safety tax would expire in 12 years.
In both proposals, the taxes would not apply to titled purchases such as cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, RVs, mobile homes and farm equipment. Groceries, prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs also would not be affected.
Barger said similar sales tax increases were used for school sports complexes in West Frankfort and Benton. “The Laborers and the other unions got the work to build those, which was a good thing,” he said.