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posted: 10/20/2012 8:00 AM

Tax hike claim on political ad stirs debate in 31st state Senate race

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  • Democrat Melinda Bush, left, opposes Republican Joe Neal in the 31st state Senate District.

    Democrat Melinda Bush, left, opposes Republican Joe Neal in the 31st state Senate District.


Melinda Bush says her record of watching out for taxpayers as a Lake County Board member speaks for itself, but opponent Joe Neal sees it differently.

What had appeared to be a relatively quiet race for the 31st District state Senate seat covering northern and parts of central Lake County recently erupted in 'he said, she said' banter regarding the messages sent by both camps.

Bush, a Democrat from Grayslake and Neal, a Republican from Wadsworth, are running to replace Republican state Sen. Suzi Schmidt, who is not seeking re-election.

Bush is incensed by Neal literature describing her as a "tax and spend" politician who voted for a big tax increase, saying it is not truthful and misleading.

In Neal's campaign literature, Bush is described as having voted for a $9.6 million property tax hike. A footnote references county budgets for the 2010, 2011 and 2012 fiscal years and board minutes.

"I did not vote for a $9.6 million tax increase. You find it, You show it to me, I'll own it," Bush said.

Both sides cited county records to support their contention, though the interpretations are different.

According to Eric Murphy, campaign manager for Neal, Bush in her first year in office voted for the 2010 county tax levy that is $9.6 million higher than in 2008, when she campaigned for the board against increased property taxes.

"Essentially, we're saying that is a property tax increase through a levy," he said. "We do not believe that is an incorrect statement."

The tax levy, which is approved separate from the budget, is the amount of property tax government collects in a given year. The proceeds are included as revenue in the budget and used to pay for daily operations.

Records supplied by Murphy showed Bush among a 22-0 vote in October 2009 to approve the 2010 levy ordinance. That levy -- just under $140 million -- was about $1.9 million more than in 2009 and about $9.6 million higher than in 2008. The county budget begins on Dec. 1 of a given year.

Bush had not been elected when the 2008 levy was approved. She won the seat in November 2008 but did not take office until after the vote on the 2009 levy.

Bush says the literature is misleading and "not truthful" because it quotes her as taking a vote on something that did not occur.

"That does not represent my record. I did not vote for a $9.6 million tax hike. There's no such vote," she said.

According to county records, Bush voted against all three budgets presented during her tenure. She said that over that time, the county lost millions in state funds coupled with drops in revenue, such as sales tax.

Bush declined to comment on her vote on the 2010 levy ordinance.

"I voted against every budget that increased property taxes," she said.

Bush said her reasoning was the county should have drawn from its reserves instead of raising property taxes.

Neal in an emailed statement said the facts are documented.

"In her very first county budget, Melinda Bush raised property taxes. There is no way around the facts and she should be straight forward on this," he wrote in the email.

Neal literature also claims Bush has refused to support "any budget that cuts wasteful spending".

Bush disputes Neal's claims.

"This does not represent my record," she said.

District 31 includes Zion, Round Lake, Round Lake Beach, Gages Lake, Winthrop Harbor, Old Mill Creek, Wadsworth, Lindenhurst, Antioch, Waukegan, Gurnee, Beach Park, Grayslake and Lake Villa.

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