Our candidates for County Board support the following platform:
Property Taxes and the County Budget
County government is often taken for granted. When we, or someone we know, needs an ambulance, a public defender, bus transportation, public health or mental health services, a sheriff’s deputy, or one of many other essential services -- or even to cast a vote in an election -- we expect these services to “be there” and functioning properly. Yet many folks only think about county government and what it does when they get their dreaded property tax bill each Fall.
This is understandable. Our property tax bills are too high. If elected, we will do our part to hold the line on property tax rates. However, the challenge will be to do so without compromising the scope and quality of essential public services. This is especially true during the current pandemic, when county government plays a crucial role in protecting public health.
This challenge is made more difficult by the fact that our state government limits the authority of counties to raise revenue through other means, imposes unfunded mandates and otherwise shifts the financial burden for delivering public services to local government bodies like counties.
It is also important to understand that county government only controls a fraction of what appears on your property tax bill. A large part of the problem stems from state government and the highly regressive tax system that we have in Illinois. Far more than most states, our state government deliberately places a huge portion of the responsibility for school funding on individual school districts – which means that the majority of school funding must come from property taxes.
This is the principal reason why our property tax rates keep climbing, which you can verify by reviewing the top portion of your property tax bills and comparing the portion going to school districts versus the portion going to county government. This is not to say that school districts don’t need the money – they do. So does county government – at least if you want to maintain the services that county government provides.
In short, for the most part, the problem of high property taxes can only be fixed at the state level. That’s why we support the Fair Tax Amendment, which will go a long way to help restore fiscal health to Illinois and enable our state government to provide its fair share of funding for education and other services.
Still, county government must do its part. If elected to office, we promise to bring fresh, innovative thinking to the problem. We will explore new ideas for raising revenue without raising property taxes. Ideas like:
- Establishing home rule in Jackson County, which would expand the county’s authority to raise revenue through other means.
- Tax “bads,” not goods. For example, right now throwaway plastic bags, bottles, straws, etc., are a huge environmental problem, killing marine life and contributing to climate catastrophe. Some of these items should be banned; others could be taxed to create new revenue. The City of Chicago took in $5 million in revenue in 2017 from its 7 cents a bag fee. On a pro rata basis, that suggests that we could raise about $112,000 if we were to enact such a fee in Jackson County.
- Public banking. Like most local government bodies, Jackson County government holds most of its funds in commercial financial institutions. Some of its funds are held in First Mid Bank & Trust, which at least has the virtue of being Illinois-based. Other funds are invested in “The Illinois Funds,” a Local Government Investment Pool operated by the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office – which in turn invests in a number of Wall Street financial institutions and corporations that many of us would find morally objectionable – such as JP Morgan, Pfizer, Exxon, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Boeing and more. You can look at the list of investments at this link.
In other words, our public funds are used to help finance Wall Street and corporate profiteering rather than help support economic activity in Jackson County. Meanwhile, like many county governments, Jackson County borrows money from Wall Street through the issuance of bonds at high interest rates. Through public banking, we could be cutting out the Wall Street profiteers, keep our public dollars at home to meet our own community needs, and use public bank profits to generate revenue for the county. At the very least, we should do a feasibility study of this idea, making full use of the resources available at the Public Banking Institute.
We also support the concept of participatory budgeting, allowing county residents to participate in discussions on the budget and make recommendations, to help the Board make the most informed decisions on future budgets.
The survival and health of human beings and all living things depends, in the first instance, on having clean air and water, uncontaminated land and a stable climate. However, we live in a society that has gravely undermined the health of our eco-system, creating not only a climate crisis but a mass extinction event.
As Greens, we firmly believe that protection of the eco-system and restoration of environmental health must be a core function and responsibility of government. In that, we are in agreement with the Illinois Constitution. Article 11 § 1 of the Constitution states that the “public policy of the State and the duty of each person is to provide and maintain a healthful environment for the benefit of this and future generations,” while § 2 declares that all Illinoisans have a “right to a healthful environment.”
As members and supporters of Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE), we stand against any further expansion of fossil fuel extraction and support a just rapid transition to an economy powered by clean renewable energy. We support sustainable transportation practices, reduction of waste, greater re-use and recycling of materials, regenerative agriculture and other measures needed to halt and reverse the climate crisis and destruction of the eco-system.
As with the property tax issue, our state government limits the power of county government to protect the environment in many instances. Nonetheless, if elected, we will use the power of county government to the fullest extent possible, to fulfill our solemn duty as protectors of our environment.
Economic Opportunity and Security
County government has an important role to play in promoting economic opportunity and security for the people. As recent events have sharply illustrated, the corporate-based private sector is incapable of delivering economic security for all. It is geared to promote maximum profits for corporate owners, not serving the public good. But around the world, working people have been busily creating new ways of creating economic security, called the “solidarity economy.”
The solidarity economy describes an alternative framework for building economic security, grounded in principles of solidarity, social equity, sustainability and democracy. The aim is to build an economy that serves people and planet rather than individual self-interest, competition, blind growth, and profit-maximizing. Worker-owned cooperatives, community land trusts, community-based agriculture and food systems, community-owned energy systems, and public banks are some of the kinds of institutions on which the solidarity economy is based. A consumer-owned co-op like the Neighborhood Co-Op in Carbondale is another such institution. The initiatives undertaken by Carbondale Spring, and nationally, the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network, provide other examples.
The solidarity economy is already helping people survive now. As these institutions grow, their potential to create a new system to help people not just survive, but thrive, will also grow.
County government should be supporting the solidarity economy when and where it can. To the extent practicable, county resources should be directed to help foster, support, and/or partner with the institutions described above to help them flourish.
More representative government
If elected to the County Board, we pledge to be accessible to voters, to listen to your concerns, and work with our constituents to find ways to make county government serve you better. With more and more people becoming accustomed to using video conferencing, we shall use this tool to hold regular “virtual assemblies” with our constituents.
We should also explore other ways and means of making our system of government more truly representative, including, to the extent that state law permits, possible implementation of ranked-choice voting and/or proportional representation.