CHICAGO — Parents and youth said they are willing to pay a higher tax on athletic shoes, but only if it means youth programs would be available in their neighborhoods.
"What's an extra 25 cents?' said Malika White, of West Pullman, who was shopping for shoes with her son this week at the Nike Outlet Factory in Chatham. "Paying more to buy gym shoes is not a problem for me especially if the extra money would be used to finance youth programs. But I want to make sure these programs are available for inner-city youth like my son."
The proposed Athletic Shoe Retailer Tax would become a reality if House Bill 978 is passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn. The proposed legislation is sponsored by state Rep. William Davis (D-Hazel Crest), who said the tax would be used to help fund programs by YouthBuild USA, a non-profit organization with 273 programs operating in 46 states including Illinois.
"The tax would bring in an estimated $3 million a year in revenue for youth programs," Davis said. "Now, we could spend 25 cents extra to create more programs for our youth or we could continue spending thousands of dollars every year to keep them incarcerated. It's funny how no one is complaining about their tax dollars being used to lock up our youth, but would complain about spending 25 cents extra to help save our young people."
White, a business analyst at the University of Chicago Hospitals, said she wants to make sure at-risk kids benefit from any programs.
She said that her 13-year-old son, Cassius Kurns, had his after-school program at Andrew Carnegie Elementary School, where he is a seventh-grader, abruptly ended Wednesday due to a lack of funds.
"Luckily I have a membership at the South Side YMCA, not far from his school, so he will be going there after school from now on," she said. "But what about families who cannot afford a membership? Where will their kids go now?"
Cassius said the gym shoes can cost $100 or more so the tax won't be a big deal.
"I doubt if the average teenager will even know about the tax," he said. "Gym shoes [are] something a lot of teens want but is not always a need. For me, it's a little of both."
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association opposes the tax request by Davis in part because like all state sales tax, online-only retailers would not have to collect it.
"The problem in Illinois is that we have to figure out how to make everyone pay their fair share of taxes. But as it stands only retailers that are brick and mortar pay state sales tax while Illinois loses $500 million a year in Internet sales tax," said David Vite, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants.
However, Tysha Whalum, who was also shopping at the Nike Outlet, said she is fine with paying an extra quarter if it would help provide a safe haven for kids.
"I have four kids and I love all four them. I would not want to be one of these mothers who gets a visit from the police letting them know their child has been killed," said Whalum, 35, a south suburban Harvey school cafeteria worker. "Hell, we spend 25 cents 10 times over in a given day so we might as well spend it to help rebuild our community and to save our kids."