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School sales tax ballot question deserves a called third strike

Belleville News Democrat

Thursday, March 8, 2018  |  Editorial  |   By the Editorial Board

Education Funding (36a) , Education--Elementary and Secondary (36) , Taxes, sales (88)
Early voting started this week, meaning Madison County residents are seeing a referendum on their ballots asking for a 1 percent sales tax to be used for school construction and renovation.

This is the third time they have been asked. The first time voters defeated the question by 80 percent. The second time by 249 votes.

Third time — during a primary election when turnout will be low — is a charm?

Here's why Madison County voters should again defeat this measure at the March 20 polls.

The state just revamped the school funding formula, which may significantly change the financial picture for local schools. That creates a big unknown for most districts and a reason for voters to wait before deciding they need this sales tax atop the new state funding.

Advocates claim the taxes will come from outsiders shopping in Madison County, but most of Madison County's shoppers shop in Madison County. Residents mostly will pay this extra penny on the dollar, estimated at $23.4 million a year.

A 1 percent hike drives the sales tax rate close to or above 10 percent in some areas. Collinsville has seven special sales tax districts that would be at 10.1 percent sales tax and Granite City would have one area at 10.35 percent were the school tax to pass. The highest sales tax rate in the region, and one of the highest in the nation, is not a competitive advantage for the retail community.

Finally, an extra tax is an extra tax. Unless school districts give voters a guarantee about exactly how much of this new revenue will go toward offsetting the property tax burdens, there will be more coming out of your pocket.

There is a national movement to harden schools after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. As we reach a national consensus on the needs and funding sources, maybe this sales tax will emerge as a smart alternative.

But for now, we recommend a "no" vote.