Tax sails; veto fails

2013-05-10T16:00:00Z 2013-09-30T19:00:14Z Tax sails; veto failsBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com

CROWN POINT | The Lake County Commissioners refused Friday morning to veto a local income tax.

Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, made five motions to veto a package of ordinances that imposes a 1.5 percent tax on the personal income of all county residents and out-of-state residents working in Lake County.

Five times the veto requests died for lack of support from Commissioners Mike Repay, D-Hammond, and Roosevelt Allen, D-Gary, who sat silently through most of the meeting.

The tax goes into effect this year.

The outcome stunned both tax proponents and protesters.

Repay had repeatedly said he couldn't support or vote for the tax because he had promised his constituents he wouldn't.

Repay said after the meeting, "This was not a decision I made easily or overnight. But I feel I was elected for more than one issue."

Some tax opponents among the early morning crowd of about 30 in the Syd Garner Auditorium of the Lake County Government Complex lashed out at him when the meeting adjourned.

"Who got to you, Repay?" shouted St. John Republican activist Joe Hero.

Others claimed Repay was doing the bidding of Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., the county Democratic Party chairman, and a tax supporter.

Repay said it was his own decision. He said his change was driven by concern that if the tax hadn't passed in its present form, the state Legislature might enact future special legislation to divert any subsequent tax to special interests, like economic development projects outside county government control. He said that nearly happened in this year's session of the General Assembly. "It could have been a lot worse," Repay said.

Lake County Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, had predicted Thursday that if the tax was vetoed and the council failed to override the veto, county officials would have had to slash $20 million from the budgets of every county government department whose services aren't mandated by state law.

County officials said reductions in property tax revenues already have forced them to cut tens of millions of dollars from their budget and eliminated more than 300 jobs in the past three years. The income tax would have replaced some of that lost money.

Scheub said Friday the tax was unconstitutionally imposed on the county by a state legislature that punished Lake with a property tax levy freeze since 2007.

Commissioner Allen previously has supported an income tax as a necessary evil that inevitably would have been passed to avoid the cut of essential services.

Dan Murchek, president of the county police union, praised Repay's courage. Murchek said if the income tax had failed, at least 30 county police officers would lose their jobs, not to mention municipal police layoffs and fire station closures.

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