School Referendum Doesn't Need Vote

By: Narina Crain
By: Narina Crain

Rockford voters may be losing their voice on a tax issue this fall. A lawyer for the public school district says it doesn't matter if voters want to approve or reject the 58-cent school referendum because a new state law has language that could extend temporary taxes without a vote.

"The law has already said we can levy up to out total property tax rate. Since we're not exceeding that there's no reason to go to referendum," said Superintendent Dr. Dennis Thompson.

Thompson says the new law makes the referendum invalid.

But the Rockford School Board is stirring up mixed emotions by considering extending a temporary tax without voter's approval. Their lawyer's interpretation of a new Illinois law may strip voters’ power to decide if the 58-cent school referendum should be extended another five years.

"I don't think they should be able to do that. I think that Rockford voters ought to get a chance to say yes or no," said Julie Mahoney, a Rockford voter.

The referendum will still appear on the November ballot because the deadline to remove it has already passed, but how we vote may not matter.

"It's not going to really prove anything whether it passes or fails because it doesn't have to be there," said Ted Biondo, chair of the referendum campaign committee.

Some local lawmakers who voted for the law say they didn't realize it could take away voter's ability to re-approve or stop a temporary tax.

"It may well be that it could be interpreted that way from a legal standpoint. It's just from a moral standpoint that was not the intent of the sponsors, the drafters of the law and not the intent of the Legislature," said state Senator Dave Syverson.

Even some supporters of the referendum are disappointed.

"Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, there will be this creation of negativity because people won't trust any form of government," said Biondo.

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