If misery loves company, then Kankakee County should gain some comfort from neighboring Grundy County.
On Tuesday, voters there will be asked to up their sales tax rate to pay for public safety after losing millions of tax revenue.
Sounds familiar, right?
That's because Grundy had been banking on money from an identical sales-tax sharing strategy Kankakee used and one that ultimately was banned by the state under pressure from major Cook County taxing districts, including the RTA and the city of Chicago.
You may remember Kankakee being thrust into the Chicago media spotlight in 2011 when the RTA and Chicago sued the city for promoting the tax program. Born in the era of the Don Green administration in 1999, the program — the RTA called it a scam — would invite companies to open up sales tax offices here to reroute sales through Kankakee. That would give companies a chance to purchase goods for themselves, or sell merchandise, using Kankakee's low sales tax rate of 6.25 percent.
In exchange for the increased sales tax the city otherwise never would see, it would return large portions of that revenue to companies. Everyone seemed happy, until the RTA, the state's largest mass transit system, caught wind of the program, cried foul for all the sales tax revenue it was missing out on and sued.
It worked. And the city lost $2.5 million in annual revenue. The county lost big, too, because any sales tax generated in the city eventually makes its way back to the county. They lost a whopping $4 million per year.
So what now?
After years of budget cuts and layoffs, the county is operating on skeletal staffs. They tried for a sales tax increase, which must be approved by a majority of voters, in November 2014. Back then, the county vied for a whole percentage point increase, from 6.25 to 7.25, and it failed miserably. Seven out of 10 voters voted against it.
This year, Kankakee County officials put the referendum back on the ballot but are asking for a 0.25 percent hike that would put our sales tax rate at 6.5 percent. The potential increase also, by law, would expire after four years.
In Grundy, sales tax revenue decreased by 59 percent during the last five years, or $2.4 million, according to the Morris Herald-News. Public safety departments are on the verge of scaling back services. Now, voters will decide whether to up their rate from 6.25 to 6.75. And as is the case here, it's anyone's guess what will happen on Tuesday.