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Pennsy tax hike foes need to offer spending cut plans

June 20, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

A collection of business and conservative political groups on Tuesday asked Pennsylvania lawmakers not to hike taxes to balance the state's budget. Those who believe the job can be done with spending cuts need to make their case within the next two weeks.

The problem facing elected officials is that a revenue shortfall estimated at $677 million in February has since grown to $1.3 million. And so the plan Gov. Mark Schweiker offered back then - using half the state's $1.1 billion Rainy Day Fund and issuing bonds to continue the phaseout of the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax - won't fill up the hole.

Since then Schweiker has proposed raising taxes on tobacco products, slowing the Capital Stock phaseout, raising fees on waste haulers and limiting state tax breaks for businesses that already get federal tax credits for new investments.

Conservative and business groups say these measures will hurt the state and consumers here. Instead they suggest across-the-board cuts in government spending. In addition, Republican leaders want to use all but about $66 million of the Rainy Day Fund.

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On the latter point, spending nearly all of the state's contingency fund is unwise, because there is no emergency that justifies it, unless you count lawmakers' fear of being labeled tax-and-spend liberals during an election year.

As for across-the-board cuts, they're easy to enact, but in practice they're as likely to chop needed services as they are to eliminate waste. And why make it that easy for lawmakers? Aren't they paid to monitor state spending and identify what's needed and what's not?

We suggest that legislative leaders quickly look at the state budget and determine what's necessary as opposed to what would be nice to have. Holding office is easy when the revenue is rolling in. Now is when lawmakers really earn their money, so please get moving.

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