Students: Say ‘no’ to sales tax hike

By Katie Dunne

“BARACK OBAMA WINS ILLINOIS”

More than likely, this will not be tomorrow’s headline, not because it isn’t true, but because it isn’t exciting. There are a few things that are certain about today’s election: Illinois will go to Obama; Texas will go to McCain; Ralph Nader will be lucky to pick up his home town.

So, as residents of Champaign, Ill., where a vote for McCain is as good as a vote for Nader, why bother?

If for no other reason, vote to save money. In the midst of an historic recession, we all have money on the mind but not very much in our pockets. While we were worrying about rising tuition costs and text book prices, the Champaign County Board was busy formulating a new sales tax.

The proposed 1 percent increase, which will be decided by a referendum question on today’s ballot, would provide funding to improve Unit 4 school facilities (which does not include the University of Illinois) and help pay off $15 million in outstanding bond debt. In return for their contribution to the sales tax, property owners in Champaign County would receive a small amount of relief on their property taxes – about $45 for a $150,000 home.

This tax increase has no redeeming qualities for college students – we do not own property and we do not use the local school system. We would be burdened by the higher sales tax, which applies to nearly all retail expenses (yes, that means booze) and reap no benefits.

The beneficiaries on campus will be landlords, who will receive property tax relief and better schools for their kids but who will likely not pass savings on to their tenants. Any “stimulation to the economy” created by the improved school system will directly benefit home-owners at the expense of UI students.

John Dimit, an Urbana school board member, says that students should contribute to local taxes.

“They use our local services,” he said to a News-Gazette reporter. “They use police protection, they use our streets.”

This justification for gouging students is overly-simplified and neglects to mention the millions of dollars generated by our presence in Champaign County, where the sales tax is already among the highest in Central Illinois.

Sean Mills, co-chair of the Illinois Student Senate (ISS) Governmental Affairs Committee, says that this tax would be “deliberately pirating students.” He explains that ISS officially opposes the tax not because they are against improving local schools but because this tax blatantly targets the U of I student body, which was never consulted in the referendum’s formulation.

Alan Nudo, a Republican member of the county board, makes no apologies. He thinks taxing the University community is a stupendous idea.

“The ability to use the sales tax, especially in our county, where there are more people who buy retail from the University of Illinois community, is a wonderful proposition,” Nudo said.

An improvement of the school system is a wonderful proposition, but this tax is not. It is a regressive tax that will disproportionately impact low income households, which make up 18.8 percent of the population in Champaign County.

Furthermore, its implementation plan is not clear. David Wall is a first-year U of I student and outspoken critic of the proposed sales tax. Regarding the use of new tax revenue to pay off bond debt, he says, “We’ve already given them money that they misappropriated. Now we’re going to give them another blank check?”

Even the referendum’s most enthusiastic supporters see drawbacks. “This particular tax goes on forever,” Nudo said, suggesting that the tax include a sunset clause. As it stands, with no such clause included, the tax will be applied indefinitely.

If you are registered in Champaign County, you can check the box next to Obama or McCain, or even Nader, with little hope for electoral consequence. But your vote of “Yes” or “No” on this referendum question could have a huge impact on the student body for years to come. I encourage you to join me in voting “No” on the proposed sales tax increase.

Katie is a senior in political science and Spanish, and she was an elf for Halloween.