Will 2014 be income tax payback time?

2013-05-26T00:00:00Z 2013-05-26T23:54:04Z Will 2014 be income tax payback time?Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
May 26, 2013 12:00 am  • 

CROWN POINT | Voters will go to the polls next spring with less money in their wallets and perhaps revenge in their hearts.

Lake County Council members and Lake County Board of Commissioners who supported the 1.5 percent assessment on county residents and workers this month will be on the 2014 ballot with other county officials running for election.

Dan Dernulc, chairman of the county Republican party and one of the council members who voted against the tax, said the tax will be a serious issue in next year's campaigns.

A vocal coalition of Republicans, Tea Party advocates and political activists disaffected with the Democratic party have vowed vengeance at the polls.

Allen Ray, secretary of the Lake County Libertarian Party, lashed out at Lake County Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, who campaigned against a new tax, but let the income tax pass by refusing to veto it.

"If we can learn anything from history, it is that this tax will soon increase, perhaps even double, and that Lake County government will still be broke, until we decide, as taxpayers and voters, that enough is enough," Ray said.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., the Democratic county chairman and an income-tax supporter, sounded a wary tone on his WJOB talk show after the tax's passage.

"All that matters now is what happens next May," he said. "I know a lot of people are upset about what happened today. Voters go out and take care if they have an elected official who they think didn't make the right move."

This doesn't frighten Councilman David Hamm, D-Hammond, who not only voted for the tax, but also initiated the debate last month because he thought the tax was the right thing to do fiscally to keep local government budgets balanced without cutting essential services.

"I don't expect much blowback," Hamm said in confirming he will be running next year.

Council members Elsie Franklin, D-Gary, Jerome Prince, D-Gary, and Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, D-Gary, voted for the tax from a relatively secure base of support that includes Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, a Gary City Council that passed a pro-tax resolution and city workers who will benefits from the millions an income tax will pump into the municipal budget.

However, Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, who represents Lake Station, Hobart, New Chicago, and parts of Merrillville, could catch the full brunt of anti-tax anger.

Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, who opposed the tax and isn't up for election next year, said, "I feel sorry for those who are in south county. They will really have a hard time."

Bilski, who supported the tax, was careful to do so only after municipal officials in his district made public their support, too.

However, municipal resolutions may not translate into voter support.

Merrillville Clerk-Treasurer Eugene Guernsey thinks Lake County Council President Bilski's support of the income tax will "absolutely" affect his chances for re-election next year.

McDermott said Repay, Prince, Franklin and Hamm all showed bravery in their pro-tax vote.

"But the one who really put his neck out there was Ted Bilski. He lives in a tough neighborhood. Are they in trouble? I don't know, but I will do everything I can, in my job as county chairman. I have their backs."

Repay, who is only in the first year of his term and wouldn't run again until 2016, said after the vote he appreciates the mayor's support.

"He knew that I was in a tough spot, because in a lot of ways he put me in it." Repay said, adding he expects local government to cut spending and justify that the income tax was needed to preserve services, not grow payrolls and salaries.

The tax critics were quick to praise County Council members Christine Cid, D-East Chicago; Dan Dernulc, R-Highland; Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point; and Scheub for their stands against the tax.

However, Cid did take heat from McDermott for her no vote on the tax. He suggested on his radio show that her efforts to court popularity won't help get her re-elected next year.

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