Pat Vershoore proposes local option sales tax for school construction funding
On the heels of a proposal by a couple Illinois legislators to ammend the state constitution to eliminate property taxes as the source of school funding, one of those unworkable right wing ideas which is more of a statement than action, Rep. Pat Verschoore, a decidedly low profile politician, (not that there's anything wrong with that) has made the front page of a local paper with his proposal to allow individual counties in Illinois to put to a vote whether to adopt a sales tax hike which would be then restricted to being used for construction of new school buildings and repairs to existing structures. The hike would be limited to a maximum of 1.0%, which means that counties could choose a smaller amount if they wished, and the revenue limited to spending on construction and other major capital improvements only and would not be spent on salaries, transportation, or general maintenance.
(The article in the D/A kindly helped those who might struggle to grasp 1.0% without a calculator by, "put(ing) that in perspective" and telling us that it would add $200 to the cost of a $20,000 car, or $0.30 to a $30 blouse. Can you provide other fun examples? Has marketing research told the D/A that most of their readers function at a first grade math level and might need a little graphical help in putting the concept of 1% "in perspective"?)
Iowa adopted such a plan in 1998 and as a result, every county in the state has adopted the sales tax increase which is expected to bring in $325 million dollars for schools next year.
The issue would be put up for referendum and voters in each county could decide whether to adopt the plan or not. (the piece said that counties "could" bring up the issue for a referenda vote, so apparently it would be up to each county whether they even put it to a vote, and referendum would not be required, though that's not clear.)
- It might stand a better chance of passing than property tax increases due to the fact that the money will not go to teachers salaries. Amazingly and rather shamefully, some voters seem to have a real problem with the notion of increasing salaries for those who educate our children.
- The fact that this could serve as a means of providing desperately needed school funding when voters seem genetically opposed to helping schools by passing property tax referenda.
- The plan has provided the Davenport school district with about $12 million a year without harming the area retail base.
- Evem a 1/2% increase in sales tax in Rock Island County would generate $6.4 million in money for new schools according to Verschoore.
- The Illinois legislature and state has done poorly providing funding for schools. The Illinois legislature has failed to pass a school construction funding bill for 5 years. And even when the state has approved funds, they haven't come through with the money. The D/A article cites the example that the Silvis school district is still waiting for the $12 million the state promised for construction of a new school. The sales tax measure would presumably get the money to the districts quicker and more reliably.
- It will likely be a tough sell to taxpayers who rarely get a chance to actually decide on taxes and who often have the kneejerk reaction to vote anything down that contains the word "tax".
- It might not work as well in Illinois as it has in Iowa. Adding to the tough sell argument is the fact that Illinois already has a higher sales tax rate than Iowa to begin with. And Iowa has a broader sales tax base due to the fact that it taxes many services as well as goods, whereas Illinois does not.
- Some argue that it is a regressive tax that hits those with lower income harder.
- A concern voiced by Rep. Boland is the fact that if some counties adopt the tax and others don't, it may create even greater disparities in school funding, therefore such measures should be adopted state-wide rather than county by county.
The Verschoore proposal would not affect the amount school districts already receive in general state aid and would only affect local sales taxes.
The issue will doubtless be much debated, but it's a good thing that Rep. Verschoore has put it out there for consideration. When schools are so strapped for much needed funding, anything that may help should definitely be considered.