Area lawmakers talk state legislation at Hobart forum
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent April 6, 2013 4:16PM
Updated: April 6, 2013 7:53PM
HOBART — Bills that would take some casino money away from local governments, allow Griffith to secede from Calumet Township and establish a veterans court in Lake County, as well as the possibility of the Lake County Council passing an option income tax, were among topics discussed Saturday at a forum featuring state lawmakers.
State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, and state Reps. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, and Charlie Brown, D-Gary, outlined some of the bills being discussed in this legislative session, the frustration they feel as members of a superminority party and took questions from residents and local officials during the two-hour forum.
Lake County Council President Ted Bilski said the council is poised to vote on a 1.5 percent county option income tax on first reading on Tuesday, a move Rogers said would result in some fringe benefits for the county on the state legislative level.
“I can’t remember a year when I didn’t try to do something for Lake County when it wasn’t thrown back in my face that we don’t have a county option income tax. They no longer will have that argument,” Rogers said.
But she and Brown both wondered if the county council would have enough votes for passage. Some members have come out in opposition and one is undecided.
The state has frozen the county’ tax levy since 2007 due to it being the only county in the state that has not passed some county income tax. The tax’s purpose is to lower property taxes.
Rogers spoke against Senate Bill 528, which would take some local revenues raised through casino taxes from local government and give it to the state.
She said casinos are generating less money due to the economy and other factors, ultimately resulting in the state getting $40 million less a year from the casinos.
“We’re saying, take that $40 million out of the $500 million in revenues the riverboats bring in,” Rogers said.
Hobart Councilman Dave Vinzant, D-4th, questioned whether Griffith’s moving ahead with its secession plan from Calumet Township on the state level is an indication this is the direction in which the state is going.
A bill allowing the secession passed out of the Senate on Thursday.
“In this instance, politics trumped policy,” said Rogers. “I think the bill is fraught with problems.”
VanDenburgh said it is bad public policy that will have far-reaching effects on the election process, taxes and more.
“It’s much bigger than being said,” she said.
Rogers said the possibility of a veterans court in Lake County isn’t dead, but will go to committee.
“It wasn’t the court that we objected to, but the fact that funding for other programs would be cut to fund it,” Rogers said.
Hobart Councilman John Brezik, D-5th, asked if there would be any possibility of combining some school districts.
“We have three school districts in our city, some of which inhibit growth in certain areas. This needs to start being looked at — where it makes sense and will save a lot of money,” Brezik said.
Brezik asked if the mayor could designate a city representative on a school board, even if as a nonvoting member.
Rogers said a nonvoting member might be possible.