RICH JAMES: It's OK for a politician to change his mind

2013-05-15T00:00:00Z 2013-05-17T09:46:04Z RICH JAMES: It's OK for a politician to change his mindRich James Times Columnist nwitimes.com
May 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Mike Repay’s yard signs prior to the 2012 Lake County commissioner’s Democratic primary were emphatic — “No new taxes.”

The signs for his two opponents — Peter Katic and Richard Novak — said the same thing.

Because pressure was mounting for Lake County to adopt an income tax, it became the key issue in the campaign.

Because each of the three well-known candidates was riding the tax issue, I suspect there were other factors that led to Repay’s election. That became clear last week.

Despite his campaign vow, Repay did the seemingly unthinkable thing and voted for the 1.5 percent income tax.

Did he sell his soul? Nope.

He did the right thing. He showed he is a lot more than a politician.

City, state and federal politicians should take a page out of Repay’s book.

It would have been easy for Repay to veto the tax ordinance. Yeah, and in 2016 his yard signs could have said, “I stopped the tax.” Re-election would have been virtually assured.

But unlike so many selfish politicians, Repay did what was difficult. He voted for what was right, not what was popular.

St. John Republican activist Joe Hero, who has never met an issue he couldn’t turn into controversy, yelled at Repay after the vote, saying, “Who got to you, Repay?”

Who got to Repay was his own conscience. What got to him was the complexity of government and the purpose it serves.

“This was not a decision I made easily or overnight,” Repay said. “But I feel I was elected for more than one issue.”

There are people like Hero who think county government can balance its budget by cutting more personnel and supplies. They are terribly misguided.

The county — and towns and cities as well — has financial problems because the amount of money it can raise has been frozen since 2007. And inventory taxes on businesses have evaporated. And the federal government has ordered the spending of more than $15 million on the Lake County Jail in recent years.

And the county now is facing the expenditure of many millions more for the state-mandated E-911 consolidation.

Without the income tax, the county would have had to cut its 2013 budget by $20 million by eliminating 30 police officers, abandoning drainage projects and in general reshaping the face of government.

In the past three years, the county has cut tens of millions from its budget as well as more than 300 jobs.

Cities and towns, too, would have felt increasing financial pressure without the tax.

Repay showed it is OK for a politician to change his mind. He did the responsible thing. The people of Lake County will come to realize that in time. Maybe even Joe Hero.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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