Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sales tax rebate fiasco raises re-election fears at the village

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Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin this week said what some of the village officials have been privately saying for the past few months, that the village may restore the Sales Tax rebate that was suspended in 2009. Trustee Brad O'Halloran has been vocal about urging that the sales tax rebate be reinstated. It was promised! You don't break promises on taxes to taxpayers.

McLaughlin has done a good job as mayor and the project at 143rd Street - with the exception of the luxury town homes and the huge investment of taxes from taxpayers -- is coming along.

But that's not enough for the village officials who are seeking re-election in the Spring of 2013. They just witnessed two trustees, Pat Gira and Ed Schussler barely return to office. The two trustees couldn't even get a majority of the vote cast, and nearly 60 percent of the voters rejected their re-elections. The only reason they won was that there was a third slate of independents who in the April 2011 election, giving voters three choices rather than two for each trustee seat. The "independents" actually were responsible for saving Gira and Schussler. (See the chart at the bottom of this column.)

One of the reasons why Gira and Schussler did so bad (and it was BAD) was that they backed the past repeal of the sales tax rebate which was promised to Orland Park residents by Mayor McLaughlin when the board moved to increase the sales tax, and didn't support calls to have it re-instated.

In October 2008, the village proposed reducing the sales tax rebate by half, to test the waters of public reaction and to not torpedo their re-election chances. The economy wasn't as bad for many in Orland Park at that time, as some suggest, but it was headed for deep recession. McLaughlin and his slate were re-elected the following year. And as I predicted in the Orland Parker that they would do, after that election the village board eliminated the remainder of the sales tax rebate.

Gira and Schussler were the first to face the full wrath of the voters; had it not been for the  independent slate, they and their new running mate Carole Ruzich would have soundly lost the election.

Now, going into the Spring elections, McLaughlin's running mates are scared. With the sales tax rebate still a sore issue with voters (including with this column), they can't take the chance. So, they will reverse it hoping that restoring half of the sales tax rebate might be enough. They'll do some polling to make sure but if it doesn't then they will restore the entire sales tax rebate.

Of course, the "spoilers" could come back and help the incumbents get re-elected. But in a one-on-one face-off, the incumbents will lose.

That is due in part to the meteoric rise of Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth "Liz" Doody Gorman who while the village of Orland Park was busy jacking up property taxes and eliminating the sales tax rebate for taxpayers, Gorman was busy defending the taxpayers. She led the fight to repeal the Todd Stroger Sales Tax. The first two efforts fell short but she persisted and it was repealed with partisan support on the third try.

That's the kind of honest leadership voters want. They don't want wishy-washy elected officials-for-life who do nothing but talk about tax relief. They want real tax relief leadership. That distinction helped Gorman trounce Pat Maher, the scandal-plagued former president of the Orland Fire Protection District, they guy that left the district in a spending mess. He's the son of Village Trustee Dave Maher, who is most likely planning to run for re-election with McLaughlin and the other trustees in the spring.

She then backed two new candidates for the Orland Fire Protection District (where I now work as the communications consultant for $12,000 a year LESS than the consultant who Maher retained) and they won big time. Maher was backed by the "power" of the village but clearly, the sales tax rebate fiasco hurt the village badly. That's why Gira came to an Orland Fire Protection District board meeting to unfairly criticize the board with wild and unsubstantiated assertions.

(Gira complained that she emailed the OFPD board through their web site and no one responded to her email. OFPD President Jim Hickey immediately responded when the issue was raised. However, That SAME DAY, I went on the Village web site and emailed Gira and till this day I never got a response!)

In the past year since his election as OFPD President, Hickey and the board members have CUT spending at the Fire District significantly. That's a first and the taxpayers see it. That did two things.

First, the new board prevented the budget from going up as it has continuously over the year. Had they not acted, the old OFPD board would have increased spending and taxes by $1 million. 

Second, the new board cut back nearly $1 million in spending to reduce the budget to UNDER $30 million for the first time in five years!

When Hickey noted that the budget was under $30 million for the FIRST TIME in FIVE YEARS, former Trustee Salvatore Cacciato, who deserves credit for continuing his interest in the fire district by attending OFPD board meetings, WRONGLY accused Hickey of exaggerating, claiming the budget was only above $30 million for the last two years. But that's not true, The budget has been above $30 million for the past five years, and error Cacciato should have known before making the criticism.

Gira didn't come to thank the board for putting the taxpayers first, of course, Why should she? She hasn't done that at the village. She came there to make it clear she and the village board are against Gorman and her allies who are putting the taxpayers first!

McLaughlin can't win re-election with all the dead weight around him and the village board's poor record on tax increases.

The first thing he should do is immediately restore the entire sales tax rebate. That's what the board promised in exchange for increasing the village sales tax which would have collected new revenues from sales to the many consumers who come into Orland Park and are not residents or Orland Park taxpayers.

Second, find some quality running mates. Brad O'Halloran has consistently been on the right side of the issues in the past few years. Keep him and do your best to ask Gira to do everyone a favor and step down ... and encourage a few of her colleagues to do the same.

They screwed up by backing Pat Maher and all of his scandals that plagued the old OFPD, and they screwed up by turning their backs in the past on taxpayers.

Do the right thing mayor, fully restore the sales tax rebate and work with O'Halloran to find a better slate of candidates for next year's election. Take a leaf from the phenomenal job at the Orland Township by Supervisor Paul O'Grady.

# # #

CANDIDATE/PARTY     ......................................................% .....................Votes

Edward G. Schussler (Orland Park United)          14.25                        2,616
Patricia A. Gira (Orland Park United)                      13.65                       2,504
Carole Griffin Ruzich (Orland Park United)            12.05                        2,211

Molly McAvoy Flynn (Fiscal Voices for Orland)         11.18                        2,052
John M. Brudnak (Fiscal Voices for Orland)             11.01                       2,021

John S. Fotopoulos (Independent)                            10.41                       1,910
Tom Cunningham (Independent)                              10.16                       1,864

Steven Williams (Fiscal Voices for Orland)               9.53                         1,748
Rich Kelly (Independent)                                               7.76                         1,424

(Maybe the Fiscal Voices challengers should consider putting John Fotopoulos on their slate along with O'Halloran.)

More resources: Orland Sales Tax Rebate dead

-- Ray Hanania

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