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Larry Lough

Bad math plagues debate on sales tax proposal

You have every right to be skeptical about taking math counsel from an editor.

An old newsroom joke is that there are three kinds of journalists: those who can do math, and those who can’t.

But this lifelong baseball fan developed an appreciation for averages and percentages.

The current debate in Lee County over a tax referendum might be simpler if everyone were a lifelong baseball fan.

Because part of the political conflict over this ballot initiative has centered on incorrect, exaggerated and misunderstood numbers.

Math is hard enough; politics makes it harder.

THIS ISN’T ABOUT whether you should vote Yes or No on the referendum.

(For the record, Yes is placed above No on the ballot.)

Some people think the additional sales tax is needed.

Some people think it is not justified.

And some people are confused – not so much about the arguments as about the math.

Fractions and decimals and percentages can be confusing.

We suggest total immersion into baseball.

THE WORDING OF the Lee County referendum, which is on the Nov. 6 ballot, is as simple as referendum language gets:

Shall a retailers’ occupation tax and a service occupation tax (commonly referred to as a “sales tax”) be imposed in The County of Lee, Illinois, at a rate of 1% to be used exclusively for school facility purposes?

In other words, Are you willing to pay a new 1 percent sales tax to raise money to construct and maintain buildings in public school districts throughout Lee County?

That means that when you buy “qualifying” items, you would pay an extra penny on the dollar.

If voters approve the referendum, a $5 hammer will cost an extra nickel; you will pay a quarter more for a $25 shirt; that 18-inch TV on sale at Christmas for $100 will cost an additional dollar.

Your groceries and prescription drugs – even a new car – will cost no more than they do now.

That’s the simple explanation.

BUT, YES, THE NEW sales tax rate for some goods purchased in Dixon would increase by 14.8 percent – which some folks have conveniently rounded up to 15 percent.

Some people have – mistakenly – taken that to mean the cost of a hammer, shirt or TV would increase by 14.8 percent.

The only thing that would increase by 14.8 percent would be the tax, which is a small part of the overall purchase price.

That $100 TV will cost you $106.75 today. If the referendum passes, it will cost $107.75.

One dollar more.

Meat, produce and canned goods at the grocery store will cost the same as they do now, as will your blood pressure medication.

If you don’t need it now, you might before Nov. 6.

PROPONENTS OF this new 1 percent tax have contributed to the confusion by posting incorrect figures.

Worse, the local schools website reported the false information.

One opponent of the tax suggested that tax supporters had “lied” about the impact of the tax.

That “lie,” however, seemed to be only an embarrassing ignorance of mathematical expression.

The school website has been corrected to explain this tax proposal would require you to pay an additional “1 cent” for every $1 in qualifying purchases.

But for weeks it had listed that additional tax as being “.01 cent” on the dollar – an apparent mutation of two ways to express a penny: $0.01 and 1 cent.

A rate of “.01 cent” – which is one-hundredth of a penny – would add only 1 cent to a $100 purchase.

An honest math mistake, probably, but one that gave opponents ammunition to attack.

ILLINOIS’ SALES TAX is 6.25 percent (0.0625).

Dixon city government has an additional one-half percent tax, bringing the rate to 6.75 percent (0.0675).

The referendum would add a full percentage point, increasing the rate to 7.75 percent (0.0775).

Lee County voters will decide.

Yes, or No?

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