"A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul," said Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw.
His name may not be Paul, but John Costello, son of U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Belleville), eagerly is supporting a state legislative effort to empty the pockets of "Peter" on his behalf.
Costello wants to build a big mall in Glen Carbon and have "Peter" (the taxpayers of Illinois) subsidize its construction. Costello couches his cupidity in community spirit, arguing that the billion-dollar University Town Center proposed for the intersection of Interstates 255 and 270 is vitally important to the local economy.
But Illinois Department of Revenue Director Brian Hamer demurs, predicting that the project simply will siphon off sales from surrounding areas like Troy, Maryville, Collinsville, and O'Fallon.
Last Monday, State Rep. Tom Holbrook (D-Belleville) introduced a sales tax and revenue (STAR) bonds bill in committee that would channel the sales taxes generated by designated tenants of the new mall directly to Costello's development group. The bill purports to address the loss of sales tax revenues to municipalities and counties within 12 miles of the the STAR bonds district by redistributing property taxes.
The property-tax switcheroo has not allayed the fears of mayors whose towns are likely to be mauled by the mall.
"This is not a good deal for the cities," says O'Fallon Mayor Gary Graham.
Troy Mayor Tom Caraker warns that this "despicable" scheme will bleed existing businesses in the Metro East and discourage start-ups and expansions. He denounces the channeling of state sales tax to private developers as a misappropriation of funds.
Graham and Caraker are right, and the citizens of O'Fallon and Troy and adjacent communities should rally behind them. The taxpayers of Illinois must stop playing Peter to the Paul of politicians and their cronies.
If some connected "Paul" has a great money-making idea from which he expects to strike it rich, let him take the risk and pay for it himself.