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Pennsy tax plan loaded with election-year gifts

February 08, 2000

Every Pennsylvania homeowner would get a property-tax rebate check for $100 under a budget proposal due to be announced today by Gov. Tom Ridge. It's a bigger rebate than citizens of Maryland and West Virginia will get this year (or anytime soon, for that matter). But this package is less a matter of good fiscal policy than it is politics, pure and simple.

The plan, designed to blunt Democrats' criticism that Ridge's tax breaks have gone mostly to business, is also a consolation prize of sorts for property owners who've been hearing for years that the state has plans to curb its heavy reliance on property levies to fund government operations.

Still don't believe it's political? Just look at the timing of the rebate checks. As envisioned now, they'll go out in October, just in time to offset school taxes, which are traditionally billed the same month. And those checks will arrive just weeks prior to the Nov. 7 election, when all members of the Pennsylvania House will be up for election, not to mention half the seats in the state Senate.

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The rest of the Ridge package has a "people pleaser" label attached as well. To soften criticism of the Republicans as the party of the rich, Ridge proposes to expand a tax-forgiveness program for low-income residents and increase child-care subsidies.

And if you're one of those who are worried that low-income folks don't have adequate access to the Internet, have no fear. The governor proposes two one-week sales tax holidays, with the tax-free items limited to personal computers.

The one comfort in this whole affair is that the package will have to go through the legislative process, where it can be amended and compromises forged.

In our view, passage of this package is probably inevitable. But the price for passing it this year ought to be an agreement to study comprehensive tax reform in 2001, when politics is less likely to color the language of the legislation.

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