Illinois Policy Institute answers Ptacek allegations

By Gary Scott on October 30, 2014 at 5:35am

Graphic from the Vision 117 website borrowed from a Stifel Nicolaus presentation.

Officials with the Illinois Policy Institute are responding to claims made by the District 117 superintendent regarding their opposition to a one-cent sales tax increase.

Superintendent Steve Ptacek made comments on Monday questioning the motives of the organization. Among the claims, Ptacek said they are Chicago-based and don’t care about downstate Illinois.

Executive Vice President of the Illinois Policy Institute Kristina Rasmussen argues the institute is based in Springfield and does care about what happens outside the Windy City.

“The only one who’s based out of state are some of these bond houses that are coming to Illinois and helping to pass these sales tax increases. We’re fully based within Illinois, we care about Illinois’ future,” Rasmussen claims.

“Living in Springfield, I’m used to a lot of groups coming to Springfield to ask for taxpayer dollars, and I certainly don’t begrudge superintendents from across the state coming here and asking governments for one thing or the other. It’s just kind of odd that that same courtesy isn’t extended to groups who care about the future of all Illinois residents, and who want to get involved locally. That’s what we’re doing,” she continues.

Ptacek called the criticism of Stifel Nicolaus’s perceived involvement in passing sales tax referenda in Illinois a “smokescreen,” but Rasmussen points out
the Vision 117 website uses Stifel’s presentation materials to promote the sales tax referendum.

“When I was fighting the Sangamon County version of this back in 2010, it was Stifel that was going around with really slick presentations, talking about how this is so great, never mentioning that they stood to make a lot of money off of this,” she says. “So I think it’s fair to point out who stands to gain from this initiative and who stands to lose.”

Ptacek was asked about the Stifel issue after Rasmussen’s interview. While acknowledging the graphic on the Vision 117 website from Stifel, he says that’s as far as their involvement goes.

Ptacek said he and the District 117 school board have reached an agreement that Stifel will not be utilized for potential bond sales on a planned renovation project for Turner Junior High School.

Stifel was involved in presentations in Morgan County; Rasmussen offered proof from a Triopia school board meeting in July.

Rasmussen says the one-cent sales tax hike, put on the referendum for Morgan County voters by the District 117 board earlier this year, will make it more expensive for families to live and work. She doubts the claims of sales tax proponents that this will help property taxes.

“Our property taxes are at an all-time high, and there is nothing in here guaranteeing that if we hike sales taxes that our property taxes will go down,” she says.

“In fact, Champaign County, which passed this initiative a while back, promised tax relief for property taxes, but it never materialized. More money was taken from taxpayers, first on the property tax front and then the sales tax front. Spending went up, and that relief never happened.”

Ptacek also criticized Illinois Policy Institute’s involvement in trying to get a Chicago virtual school voucher program last year and pointed out that several officials with the non-profit are reportedly listed as executives for the virtual school initiative, but Rasmussen has an answer for that:

“He should do his research a little better. Yes, we do support school choice for residents across Illinois. We think that parents should be empowered to choose the school that’s right for their kid. That could be the public school, that could be a private school, that could be a charter school, and yes, it could even include an online school,” Rasmussen says.

“I did have a couple of employees who volunteered their time for no pay with a nonprofit who was trying to bring a virtual charter school to a community that could have really benefited from it, but they did it on their own time, making no money, just as proof that they live their principles.”

As for what school districts like Jacksonville District 117 should do to improve their crumbling schools instead of putting a sales tax on the ballot, Rasmussen says to look at the money the district already has.

“It may be easy for a superintendent who makes a six-figure salary to talk about a penny tax, but for a family who’s struggling, that’s real money. That means their diapers cost more, prepare food costs more, gas costs more. So, we’ve got to turn around and look at where the budget already exists; where are their efficiencies, where can additional savings be found to invest locally?” questions Rasmussen.

Rasmussen also notes that proponents of the sales tax measure are outspending groups against the measures by a seven-to-one margin, with many donors coming from outside Morgan County.

Ptacek will be on “What’s On Your Mind?” on Friday.

You can hear the full interview with Rasmussen below: