Republican county board members torpedo plan for new sales tax in Kane County
After spending most of 2022 debating the need to create a new Kane County sales tax to fund state-mandated police and court reforms, county board members decided this week not to pursue the tax increase.
The result came via political maneuvering by the Republican members of the board that seemed to catch Democrats unprepared.
For months, the board has debated what the true costs will be of implementing the state's SAFE-T Act. The phased-in justice reforms require expensive changes, including body cameras for law enforcement, the end of cash bail and hiring dozens of new judicial system employees.
The cost estimates have changed throughout the county board's sales tax discussion. The most recent projections show a $37 million budget deficit by 2025.
Some Republicans on the county board, including Bill Lenert, have suggested spending down the county's savings and using whatever federal COVID-19 emergency funds available to ward off any sales or property tax increase as long as possible. Democrats, including board Chair Corinne Pierog, have favored testing voter support for a new 0.50% sales tax (50 cents per $100) so they can build out a long-term budget that, ideally, leaves some money in the piggy bank.
A significant factor in the discussions is the looming November election, where all 24 county board seats are on the ballot. Until this week, it appeared the county board would delay asking voters about the new sales tax until April.
That would allow incumbents to not take a firm position on the sales tax, especially during high inflation, before the election. But it would also defer the decision until a new board is seated.
But Republicans led their Democratic colleagues into a snare this week when Ken Shepro, who is also chairman of the Kane GOP, proposed an amendment to the plan that would have placed the sales tax referendum on November ballots. Shepro argued the November election would have more voters than the April 2023 consolidated election. That would still leave April open for a possible second attempt if the November question failed.
That sparked enough Democrat support for the move to garner 12 votes (including three Democrats) to change the referendum plan to November.
Shepro then argued there wouldn't be enough time before the November election to educate voters about why the sales tax would be needed. At the same time, Republicans brought forward new information that the sales tax would apply to gasoline sales.
That created enough doubt to garner 13 votes against pursuing any sales tax at this time.
In an interview after the vote, Pierog acknowledged the deft political moves by Republican board members. But she said the vote leaves the county with no plan to fund justice reforms with no reason to believe the state mandate is going away.
"This should have been for the voters to decide, and Republicans took that privilege away," Pierog said. "It was a decision based on politics, not the good of the county."
Shepro, in an interview, said Republicans lacked faith in the cost projections of the justice reforms, the staffing requests associated with the reforms and the suggestions of what the impact of the new sales tax would be.
"If we don't know a lot of the factual information, how can we ask the voters to say 'yes,'" Shepro said. "Even we, as a board, don't understand it. The board has no businesses putting a referendum on any ballot until we understand what the budget numbers are."