Law says voters must approve tax, but cant repeal it
Former Winnebago County Board Chairman Gene Quinn lobbied for the bill in 1995
By Jeff Havens
State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34) sponsored the 1995 bill that allows certain counties to impose a sales tax for public safety purposes. Syversons bill (P.A. 89-107) became law Jan. 1, 1996, paving the way for Winnebago Countys jail tax.
However, even though the tax may not be imposed without direct voter approval, the tax may not be repealed directly by voters.
State statute (55 ILCS 5/5-1006.5) reads: If a county imposes a tax under this section, the county board may, by ordinance, discontinue or lower the rate of the tax.
Gary Kovanda, Winnebago County deputy states attorney, said there is no provision in the law that would allow voters to directly repeal the jail taxonly the county board can repeal the tax.
Syverson said he couldnt recall the reason why a provision was not written into the law to allow voters to directly repeal the tax. However, he speculated that the law was probably written to guarantee a taxpayer-supported revenue stream to bond holders that fund public safety projects.
Syverson said he would consider supporting a bill that would allow voters to directly repeal the tax, after the bonds are paid to construct Winnebago Countys proposed 1,212-bed jail.
The jail is expected to cost between $127-$130 million. Approximately 36 percent of the expected annual revenue generated from the jail tax, or $8.3 million, will be used to pay the bond debt.
Lobbying for Syversons bill on March 16, 1995, was former Winnebago County Board Chairman Gene Quinn (R). State records indicate only three individuals, including Quinn, testified before the state revenue committeeall were proponents of the bill.
Quinn said he doesnt remember testifying for the bill, but did remember supporting changing the law because we needed the sales tax to build a new jail. Quinn added that James Thomas 1994 federal jail overcrowding lawsuit was the final straw that necessitated changing the law.
Thomas was represented by Rockford attorney John F. Heckinger Jr., who negotiated with the county in 1997 a three-year moratorium on future jail lawsuits. When the moratorium expired in 2000, Heckinger filed another jail overcrowding lawsuit.
Heckinger is representing Timothy Chatmon and Timothy Chatman Jr., in that 2000 lawsuit. It was this lawsuit that led to the 2002 increase in the countys sales tax to pay for construction of the countys new jail (see Sept. 29 article Jail lawsuit plaintiff urges tax repeal).
The other two proponents for Syversons bill were Chicago attorneys J. Douglas Donenfeld and Kiplund R. Kolkmeier. Before Rockford Mayor Doug Scott was elected in 2001, Kolkmeier contributed $150 to Scotts campaign, when Scott was state representative.