Editorial: Don’t sign home rule petitions

Vote for the sales tax—it’s a better deal

Home rule takes away your right to vote on major municipal proposals. If you endorse home rule by signing the petition to get the question on the ballot and it passes, you have given your vote to the members of the Rockford City Council.

A case in point is the proposal to increase the city sales tax by 1 percent. Unlike the rejected home rule, state law doesn’t require petitions for this proposal. And, as opposed to the rejected home rule, City Council may, and should, vote to put the increase on the ballot as a referendum question.

You get to decide, yes or no, on the referendum question of raising the sales tax. If home rule were in effect, City Council would decide, and you would not have a direct vote by referendum. Under home rule, the only thing you could do if you did not agree with raising the sales tax would be to work to defeat your alderman and every alderman who did not vote according to your wishes. Good luck, and good night.

As with the sales tax, City Council can do everything they wish to with home rule—it just takes a little longer because your vote must be asked for, or they must follow the process of law, which has opportunity for redress, if you can afford it.

Let’s look at one of the Karl Rove-ian slogans that Empower Rockford has graphicized for its campaign:

‘power (back) to the people’

This knockoff of the 1960’s Black Panthers’ slogan “All power to the people,” is very misleading because we lose our right to vote, our real power, on major referendum questions. As noted, City Council could decide for us under home rule.

Empower Rockford argues: “Many of the state reps outside our district couldn’t care less about Rockford. Yet, we are dependent upon them. Home Rule would give us more local authority over our community’s destiny.”

Sounds good, eh? Wrong, unless you believe we should seceded from the Union and the State of Illinois. Many of the state laws passed by state legislators, who “couldn’t care less about Rockford,” are there to protect us. One such law is tax caps, or Illinois’ Property Tax Extension Limitation Laws (PTELL).

Richard F. Dye, at a 2001 University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs conference on “Ten Years of Tax Caps in Illinois,” defined tax caps: “The Illinois tax cap is imposed on all non-home rule jurisdictions in the affected counties. Under the cap, local governments can increase their property tax collections by no more than the rate of inflation in the national Consumer Price Index or 5 percent, whichever is less. New or newly annexed property is exempt from the cap in the first year, and there are special rules for bonds.”

Dye concluded, “the potential restraint from tax caps is sizeable.”

See his full report at www.igpa.uiuc.edu/events/confHighlights/tif/tenyears.htm.

As for bonds under tax caps, i.e., no home rule, the State of Illinois Revenue Web site states: “Payments for bonds issued without voter approval are subject to strict limitations. If a taxing district determines that it needs more money than is allowed by the limitation, it can ask the voters to approve an increase.”

Read all about tax caps and note that they are invalid in “home rule” taxing districts at: www.revenue.state.il.us/LocalGovernment/PropertyTax/pio62.htm.

In other words, without home rule, local government, city or county, can raise your property tax and issue bonds without your approval by referendum. Yes, say “good-bye” to your direct vote on a specific tax or bond issue. Say “hello” to higher property taxes.

That’s “power (taken) from the people.” Call Empower Rockford’s efforts what they really are: “home rule” for “politicians only.”

In upcoming issues, look for more about the “rules” politicos could put on licenses and fees that can pound everyone’s wallet, checkbook and bank account.

Vote for sales tax increase

On the other hand, the proposed sales tax increase is “as advertised.” By placing the increase on the ballot, City Council is asking each voter to approve or disapprove of a 1 percent sales tax increase, from 7.25 percent to 8.25 percent, on all goods in the city, with the exception of groceries, automobiles, boats, medical equipment and some medicines.

Many out-of-towners use our streets and other infrastructure and don’t pay for city stickers or property taxes. Many renters enjoy the benefits of Rockford schools and don’t directly pay those taxes. Those burdens are put upon city residents, property owners and landlords, who can only charge what the market will bear, while paying the difference.

Meanwhile, retail merchants complain that any increase in sales tax will drive customers elsewhere. The increase is more revenue for them to keep track of, plus the labor costs associated with it. The latter is correct, while the former is a matter of debate. Other major cities in Illinois have higher sales taxes than 8.25 percent. However, without home rule, at least these retailers get to vote directly on the question.

If the aldermen keep their promise to drop property taxes by 20 percent in exchange for getting the sales tax increase, we should go for it. Maybe some of that “white flight” to surrounding communities that are now increasing their own taxes and fees will stop, or even reverse.

Cities everywhere are crying for revenue. Rockford is no different. Let’s just be honest about it. The sales tax increase makes sense because it will spread the burden instead of focusing it on property owners.

Unfortunately, the poor will pay as well, but not as much as they would under home rule. With the sales tax, maybe, just maybe, the poor will get better sidewalks, alleys, streets and public transportation in their neighborhoods, and throughout the city as well.

Don’t sign the petition to put home rule on the ballot, but do vote for the sales tax increase. It’s a better deal than home rule.

From the Jan. 18-24, 2006, issue

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