SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill this past week that would eliminate the type of skirmish that occurred between the Sangamon County Board and local school districts last year over what the board’s role should be if voters approve a sales tax increase for school construction.
SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill this past week that would eliminate the type of skirmish that occurred between the Sangamon County Board and local school districts last year over what the board’s role should be if voters approved a sales tax increase for school construction.
Quinn signed Senate Bill 2170, which eliminates the ability of county boards to block or reduce school construction sales tax levies. From now on, if county school districts put a referendum on the ballot, voters will have the final say, not county boards.
Sangamon County voters turned down a 1 percent sales tax increase for schools in November 2010. On the same ballot was an advisory referendum, put there by the Sangamon County Board, that asked voters if the sales tax had been approved, how involved the county board should have been in its implementation.
At the time, Sangamon County Board Chairman Andy Van Meter said the board wanted voters to tell it whether it should take into consideration other potential needs in imposing a tax, such as whether more money is needed for law enforcement or infrastructure.
Those who supported the unsuccessful push for the sales tax increase hailed Quinn’s actions.
“There really wasn’t a reason for the county to be part of that discussion. It was between the school districts and their voters,” said Chuck Pell, a spokesman for Citizens for Sangamon County Schools, a group that campaigned for approval of the school sales tax
“It always had seemed like an unnecessary bureaucratic hurdle if the people approved the tax,” said Bill Looby, president of the Springfield School Board. “I’ve always viewed that as if that’s the will of the people that should be enough.”
But Van Meter said board members thought they were asking a reasonable question.
“We thought we took a constructive position in trying to help form a consensus about priorities in our community but I guess some powerful interests in the legislature didn't appreciate our efforts,” he said.
Chris Wetterich can be reached at (217) 788-1523.
Referendum on the ballot again?
Chuck Pell, who supported an unsuccessful effort to increase sales taxes to support Sangamon County schools, said it will be another 12 to 18 months before his group considers trying again. He said he thought the economy was a factor in voters rejecting the measure last year.
“We have to view the landscape at this moment,” he said. “Frankly, the stalled economy seems to -- based on certain indicators -- be hanging around for a little bit.
“I’m confident that at some point it (a school sales tax) might be asked for again. Is the need there? It’s almost a forgone conclusion that it is.”
Springfield School Board president Bill Looby said the Springfield School District’s infrastructure needs are still there, but nobody is talking about another referendum.
“I imagine if there are board members who want to bring it up, it will be discussed at that point,” he said. “It’s been less than a year. The needs haven’t gone away. We’re just dealing with them as best we can.”