Lake County income tax vote moves to the fast lane

2013-04-24T19:00:00Z 2013-04-25T11:35:06Z Lake County income tax vote moves to the fast laneBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
April 24, 2013 7:00 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | Pro-income tax members of the Lake County Council are hurrying to pass it before the end of the week.

The seven-member council will hold an emergency session 4:30 p.m. Friday for a second and final vote to enact county ordinances that will impose a 1.5 percent assessment on the personal income of county residents as well as everyone else working in Lake County.

Four Democrats on the seven-member council voted April 9 to pass the tax to preserve local government services and scheduled a final reading of the tax ordinances for next month.

But Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said they had to accelerate the next tax vote to outrace a Republican bill in the General Assembly to divert one out of every six new tax dollars to public transportation projects of the Regional Development Authority.

"I have nothing to do with the timing of this," Bilski said. "We are trying to beat a deadline. I didn't want it to become a political football, but it has."

Bilski said the RDA should be seeking state and federal money for its public transportation projects instead of dipping into an income tax.

Lake is the only county in the state without a local income tax. Democratic local officials opposed it in the past as an unfair burden on working men and women.

But a decade of legislation, dominated by downstate Republicans, have eliminated, reduced or frozen business-related tax revenues that have sustained local government in past years. County officials have been forced to shrink payrolls and borrow in the face of rising operational costs including federal- and state-mandated public safety initiatives.

The measure is expected to generate more than $90 million that must be shared around the county in the form of property tax credits that would primarily benefit suburban property owners and build local government budgets.

The remaining $45 million would supplement government budgets.

Two Republican Lake Council members oppose an income tax, arguing local government needs to cut spending, not raise taxes. A fifth Democratic council member, Christine Cid of East Chicago, voted against the tax on first reading, but said she hasn't made a final decision on the issue.

If the council passes the ordinances on second reading, they move before the three-member Board of Commissioners, where opposition to the tax will likely result in a veto.

The tax then would die, unless the council musters five votes to override the veto.

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