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Let's be civil about the 377 Board referendum

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My sanity survived the nastiest election season I can recall, and I'll be darned if I have to subject myself to a second helping next April.

Northwest Herald reporter Joe Bustos on today's front page delves deeper into the April referendum to create a "377 Board" and a corresponding tax levy to create a funding source to help agencies serving residents with developmental disabilities.

If voters approve it on April 9, property taxes will go up about $60 on the owner of a $200,000 home who takes the homestead exemption. That money will be disbursed by a 377 Board appointed by the County Board. The setup would be very similar to the Mental Health Board, which was approved by referendum decades ago to serve the same purpose for people with mental disabilities,

Nobody likes to pay taxes, with the possible exception of the residents of Massachusetts, and calls to raise them are about as popular as breaking wind in church. But having said that, after surviving the vitriol of the 2012 election, I'm going to recommend some ground rules for discussing this proposed tax increase:

• Supporters of this referendum are not tax lovers and Mitt Romney 47 percenters who want to live off of the entitlement state. No one chooses to have a child/spouse/relative with special needs. These are real people with real problems. It's not their fault that Deadbeat Illinois balances its budget by not paying what it owes to the agencies that provide these services.

And it certainly is not these people's fault that all of the revenue from that 67 percent tax increase (remember, the tax increase that was supposed to help the state pay its bills?) instead is going to feed Squeezy the Pension Python.

(Man, Squeezy would be election gold in 2014 if Illinois had a Republican Party.)

• Opponents of this referendum are not soulless ghouls who hate the less fortunate and eat children. Taxes in this county are killing us. Last year, property taxes on many homes went up hundreds or thousands of dollars, despite the fact that our home values have plummeted.

The problem isn't that this new proposed board is "only" asking us for $60 and change a year. The problem is every other taxing body on our bills every year asks us for "only" a bit more. I have eight taxing bodies on my bill. And that's not counting what 2013 will mean in terms of health insurance premiums, the Bush tax cuts, the fiscal cliff, shifting teacher pensions to local taxes, etc.

• You don't run April tax increase referendums because you need time to "educate the voters." In every April election, someone tries to sell the big fish story as to why a referendum is being run in April, so allow me to stop it before it starts.

Let's get this out in the open and out of the way right now. You run tax increase referendums in April because not even one voter in five casts a ballot, and the odds are much more in favor of getting a tax increase passed. Period. End of story.

And even if the motive is altruistic, no one in a million years is going to believe it, so let's not try. So let's make a deal – no one tells the lie, and I don't have to call it out in print citing the average 16 percent turnout over the past four April elections.

• People have the right to question creating yet another layer of government. Illinois has more than 7,000 governments, and watching them all is absolutely impossible. The question of accountability regarding creating a 377 Board is a legitimate one.
• There's something of a double standard that has to be addressed here.
The same social service agencies that support the creation of this board are the same ones who in past years have openly criticized the size and scope of the Mental Health Board. They called the board a swelled bureaucratic leviathan when it decided several years ago to spend $4 million in economic stimulus bonds to more than double the size of its headquarters.

Taxpayers who openly ask about this discrepancy, and ask how the 377 Board will be different if it passes, have a legitimate question and deserve an honest answer.

• Regardless of the result in April, McHenry County cares. Win or lose, the generosity of McHenry County's voters is not to be questioned. These same voters agreed to tax increases to pay for a mental health board, a county nursing home, senior services, veteran services and a conservation district.

• If the referendum fails, people with disabilities will still be there. And they need help. And our elected state leaders should be bowing their heads in shame.

Senior Writer Kevin Craver can be reached at

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