Days after Jersey County voters reject tax hike, school board tries again

By Brian Costin | Nov 25, 2014

Well that didn’t take long.

Jersey County voters just rejected a facility sales tax hike referendum on Nov. 4, with 52 percent voting no.

But at the first board meeting after the election, on Nov. 20, Jersey County Unit School District 100 board members voted 6-0 to place the referendum on the ballot again in April 2015.

Because it is the only school district in the county, the measure, also known as the County School Facility Tax, or CSFT, will automatically be placed on the ballot again. In other counties with multiple school districts, referendums can only be placed on the ballot after school districts representing more than 50 percent of the county’s student populations pass resolutions.

Illinois already has the 10th-highest sales taxes and the second-highest property taxes in the nation, but school districts in many counties are pushing for more. If the referendum is successful, it would increase the county-level sales taxes in Jersey County from 1 percent to 2 percent, a 100 percent increase.

While school districts can place sales-tax referendums on the ballot every election, once sales-tax hikes are enacted, voters can never initiate a referendum to repeal them.

Whiteside County school districts put the sales tax hike referendum on the ballot four times – in 2008, 2009, 2013 and the 2014 primary – before finally wearing down voters and passing it this November in the general election.

Additionally, school districts often help pass the sales-tax hikes by making property tax relief promises they don’t end up keeping. For example, 12 out of 13 school districts in Champaign County failed to keep promises of lowering property taxes to their residents after enacting a sales-tax hike in 2009.

State laws need to be reformed to make it harder to pass these sales-tax hikes and easier for citizens to repeal them if promises aren’t kept by school districts. Only citizens should be allowed to put education sales tax hike referendums on the ballot by collecting a significant number of petition signatures from local voters. State law should be reformed to allow voters to repeal the tax hikes via referendum after circulating a petition of equal number.

It’s wrong for it to be so easy for school districts to place a tax-hike referendum on the ballot, and so hard for taxpayers to remove the tax down the line.

Brian Costin is Director of Government Reform for the Illinois Policy Institute.

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