Voters cannot repeal jail tax

Even though Winnebago County’s jail tax must be approved by voters, it may not be repealed by voters. Only the County Board has the authority to roll back the sales tax, according to a state law pushed in the 1990s by two Rockford-based politicians.

State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34, Rockford) sponsored the 1995 bill that allows certain Illinois counties to impose a sales tax for “public safety purposes.” Syverson’s bill (P.A. 89-107) became law Jan. 1, 1996, paving the way for Winnebago County’s 2003 jail tax.

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.”

Syverson said in 2004 he couldn’t recall why a provision was not written into the law to allow voters to directly repeal the tax. However, he speculated the law was probably written to “guarantee” a taxpayer-supported “revenue stream” to bond holders that fund public safety projects.

The other Rockford politician who supported Syverson’s 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 committee—all were proponents of the bill.

From the Feb. 7-13, 2007, issue

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