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Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Posted 10:15 PM by

Pa. House passes property tax 'relief' bill

The bill slams working renters to give homeowners a small break. A better move would have been to use the near-$1 billion the state overtaxed residents this year to pay school district costs and lower property taxes.

House Bill 39 splits some of the state's slots revenue among property owners and elderly renters, but calls on working renters to give homeowners even more of a break on school property taxes.The same tax reform bill Pennsylvania House Republicans tabled a month ago, saying it didn't do enough to help property taxpayers, passed tonight by a 137-61 margin, and was sent to Gov. Ed Rendell.

House Bill 39 only guarantees that three-quarters of the $1 billion in expected revenue from the state's share of 63,000 slot machines at 14 parlor across the state will be used by the 501 school districts to reduce property taxes.

By Rendell's own estimate, it will save the average homeowner $200, but increase taxes by a lot more than that on working renters. The rest of the slots money will be used to expand a rent rebate program for seniors making less than $35,000.

The bill requires the districts to place a referendum on the primary ballot next year asking voters within their borders if they favor a 1 percent earned income tax or personal income tax, with its proceeds being used for further reducing property taxes.

If the referendum is approved, the district would then be limited to future tax increases based on the increase in the average of the statewide average weekly wage and the employment cost index.

To me, the bill is purely an election year ploy so some legislators and Rendell can say they gave $1 billion in tax relief to Pennsylvanians while justifying jamming slot machine gambling down our throats.

While the measure may finally set some limits on what school boards can spend and what teachers' unions can ask for, it slams workers who cannot afford to buy homes by shifting the burden onto them.

Nor is it any way real tax reform.

The Republican majority had wanted the House to consider separate legislation to further reduce property taxes by raising the state's 6 percent sales tax by either 1 percentage point or half a percentage point. Both proposals were voted down on Wednesday. To see how the lawmakers voted on H.B. 39, click here.

"Once people realize that there is no property tax reform, then it's going to come back on our shoulders to do something," said Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Cambria County. "We've come up with a big goose egg."

"It's better than nothing," countered state Rep. Camille George, D-Columbia County, saying it was like providing a sandwich to a hungry man.

But state Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny County, said, "It's more like a picture of a sandwich."

This from a Legislature that's sitting on an extra $187 million in operating funds?

This in a state, which hasn't met its obligation to fund half of local school district costs in decades (currently it pays 36 percent), but whose state budget this year had another $723 million more in revenue than it spent.

That means the state is already overtaxing its residents by almost another $1 billion.

The real reason legislators pushed for some form of tax relief was to justify legalizing slot machine gambling before the licenses get handed out in a few months and they must stand for reelection.Lawmakers should either give us that money back, cut state taxes or use that money to offset school property taxes by paying their full share of the costs, thereby giving local homeowners a real break.

Instead, Rendell and the Legislature plan to spend all that extra money and the only argument seems to be which state programs should get the largesse.


To read a few things you probably won't see in tomorrow's newspapers, including one lawmaker's swipe at the state Senate, click here.
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