Gary officials ask citizens to voice concerns to lawmakers
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent February 16, 2013 3:14PM
George Stoya of Hammond ask a question concerning Bill Legislation during the Legislative Community Forum at the Genesis Convention Center in Gary on Saturday. | Jeff Addison ~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 18, 2013 6:50AM
GARY — Local officials and lawmakers asked Gary residents to “get their supportive hats on” with regard to what’s happening for the city in the General Assembly, particularly Senate Bill 585.
The lawmakers’ session isn’t yet at the halfway mark, but bills on the table have the potential to make or break the city, officials said during a forum sponsored by Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson on Saturday morning at the Genesis Center.
The mayor said Senate Bill 585, sponsored by Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, is an economic development driver that could bring the city millions of dollars and thousands of jobs through its proposed creation of a port in Buffington Harbor and a new teaching hospital and trauma center.
Other bills could send Gary into another financial tailspin. The officials cited House Bill 1585 and Senate Bill 528, in particular.
The first would allow a town to secede from a township if the town believed the township was taking too much in the way of property tax money without delivering comparable benefits.
In the second bill, an amendment added in the Appropriations Committee would reduce the amount of casino admissions tax the state provides for this year then eliminate it within two years. The state’s argument for the amendment is that it’s losing $40 million a year by making up the difference of lower admissions tax as it’s supposed to, said Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary.
If the bill passes, Gary could lose $6 million in casino revenue.
“The effect on Gary is higher because we have two boats, and our admissions are lower,” Rogers said. “(Since casino revenue is a county issue), maybe we can ask Griffith to help us out since they receive money from gaming, too.”
Rogers said she’s told legislators that the $40 million the state says it’s losing by making up the difference in paying out admissions tax is nothing compared with the $523 million the state receives through gaming annually.
“It’s absolutely unfair,” she said.
With regard to HB 1585, Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin said to the town of Griffith’s contention that its property owners pay $3 million to the township and get nothing in return, the township has never refused an eligible client from Griffith who needed services and has helped with storm relief and shelter in emergency situations.
She also said House members hadn’t conducted their own research into the township’s finances and instead were relying on hearsay reports.
“Every Democratic representative, except for Mara Candelaria Reardon, voted against it this week. The senators know the consequences,” Elgin said. “Nobody wants a county option income tax, and some don’t want to pay for the township. They can’t have it all.”
“At its very core, (1585) is bad public policy because it says, ‘We don’t want to pay for other people,’ ” she said.
“That’s like saying we don’t want to pay for public education because we’re not using it.”