Jail tax history

Public officials such as Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli (R) and Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers (D) asserted in 2002 that Winnebago County’s sales tax increase was desperately needed to relieve alleged overcrowding in the jail, and pay for related programs.

To achieve that goal, Logli and Meyers urged voters in the fall of 2002 to approve a 16 percent hike in the county’s sales tax. The voters agreed, and the sales tax jumped from 6.25 to 7.25 percent in July 2003.

The campaign for the jail tax referendum was backed by prominent local politicians, and many influential groups and individuals. However, the most powerful was the political action committee Winnebago County Citizens for Public Safety 2002, which boasted Logli as chairman and attorney Paul Cicero as treasurer.

Together, the political action committee collected $44,410 from 40 transactions and 34 contributors. More than half that money, $24,075, went to KMK Media Group of Rockford.

KMK lists on their Web site several local government agencies and politically-connected organizations as clients. The list includes Winnebago County Bar Association, Northern Illinois Building Contractors Association, Ringland-Johnson Construction Company, Winnebago County, Title Underwriters Agency, and Robert Stenstrom. Stenstrom owns several construction and development-related companies.

No organized opposition to the referendum was mounted.

During the campaign to approve the jail tax, the original cost and size of the new jail was touted at $110 million and 975 beds. But the size and cost ballooned to $160 million and 1,212 beds fewer than 16 months after the jail tax was approved. Since the sales tax increase went into effect, the tax has collected an estimated $90 million from consumers.

Logli said during the jail tax campaign that approving the increase would save taxpayers money on expensive litigation proceedings, which were related to a 2000 alleged jail overcrowding lawsuit. Logli repeated similar sentiments shortly after the October 2003 jail lawsuit agreement, which stipulated building the jail.

The bulk of the jail tax money has been spent on construction of the jail, and paying interest and principal on bonds to finance the project. The sales tax collects an estimated $24 to $28 million from consumers each year.

The campaign theme for the referendum was “a penny for public safety.” However, critics of the campaign correctly distinguished the cost difference between one cent and 1 percent, really a 16 percent hike.

For years, the Rockford Register Star repeatedly and incorrectly reported the tax hike as a “1 percent” increase. The daily newspaper now correctly reports such increases as “1 percentage point” or as a “full penny on the dollar.” The newspaper was also a supporter and monetary beneficiary of the jail tax campaign.

From the Feb. 7-13, 2007, issue

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