Student Senate opposes county sales tax increase

By Alissa Groeninger

Members of the Illinois Student Senate are opposing an upcoming referendum.

This November, Champaign County ballots will have a referendum item asking voters to raise the sales tax by one percent to benefit school districts.

Sean Mills, co-chair of the Senate’s governmental affairs committee, said property owners in Champaign will get a rebate from the tax, but students do not generally own property. Students will have to pay the sales tax but will not get the rebate that other residents will receive, he said.

School districts in the county worked together to have the item placed on the ballot. The tax, which would not include licensed vehicles, food and medications, will provide school districts with $1 million in tax revenue, said Mark Netter, president of the Urbana School Board.

Netter said the sales tax would save residents money because property taxes will not have to be raised.

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    “It’s beginning to move support for education away from (more traditional forms of revenue),” Netter said.

    School boards across the county believe one of the problems in the schools that can be fixed by the referendum is that they are not air-conditioned.

    “Some of the buildings are just unbearable,” said Del Ryan, co-manager for the of the campaign committee for the sales tax. “It’s hard to concentrate when sweat’s dripping down.”

    The improvements suggested by the school boards are designed to enhance each district.

    “Better schools help to make the area more attractive,” said Jane Quinlan, regent superintendent of schools for Champaign and Ford counties.

    Using the tax revenue for building maintenance will allow school districts to make necessary changes when they are needed, Netter said. Relying on property taxes is tough because the revenue is inconsistent.

    Focusing on referendums can also hurt districts because they do not always pass. Brian Minsker, district director for Parent-Teacher Associations in eight counties across Illinois, said school districts are suffering because the state of Illinois has not supported education.

    “This boils down to the state’s failures over the years in funding schools,” Minsker said.

    Quinlan said many of the buildings in the district are over 50 years old and need fixing and updating. Of the 14 school districts in the county, 11 have loans to pay and can do so with this money, which would allow districts to lower property taxes.

    “If this referendum passes and the school board is (smart) about how it uses the money we may never have to go to the taxpayers again,” Netter said.

    The Student Senate is planning activities to make students aware of the referendum. They intend to have booths on the quad, open a Facebook group and work to register student voters. Their hope is to garner student support, Mills said.

    “One of the reasons we haven’t seen any opposition is because of how unfair this is to students,” Mills said.

    Abby Hobbs, Champaign resident, said she is not happy about a tax increase but believes it is necessary to improve infrastructure in the district. She is concerned that increasing sales tax may hurt businesses in Champaign, but believes education is the most important aspect of the community.

    The tax increase’s opponents say the state will stop funding the districts if this passes and that it is a tax that will hurt the poor.

    Minsker acknowledged that a sales tax is a regressive tax, meaning everyone pays the same amount and people with lower incomes do not pay less. Trent Morrow, student senator and sophomore in LAS, said the referendum would disproportionately affect lower-income people. He said raising the tax while the economy is declining could hurt citizens.