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Get the details right

April 16, 2003

An independent poll of Pennsylvania voters taken last week found that 53 percent agree with Gov. Ed Rendell's proposal to reduce property taxes.

The only problem: Pollsters didn't tell those interviewed that a key part of cutting property taxes is to raise the state's income tax. Once again it's clear that the administration needs to provide a lot more detail than it has so far on how this plan would work and adjust some of its less-then-sensible provisions.

Like what? Like the property-tax rebate, for example. As planned, each school district would get a certain amount of the cash set aside for tax relief.

So far, so good. But then the cash will be divided equally, with no allowance made for the amount of tax paid. Those paying $100 would get the same rebate as those paying $1,000.

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Even that rebate wouldn't be automatic, because taxpayers have to apply to get it. And if they didn't apply, then the cash would go back into the pool, increasing the size of the rebate for those who do the paperwork.

Even Gov. Rendell doesn't favor this provision, telling a group of reporters that he feels rebates can be done without application.

That's a good start. A good second step would be to alter the plan so that school districts would calculate the property tax paid, then dole out rebates in proportion to what was paid.

Would that be a lot of work? No doubt, but because future property taxes would be calculated at the new, lower rate, it will only have to be done once.

If that work isn't done and some taxpayers realize after it's too late that they've missed a rebate, then the plan will draw lots of citizen criticism.

Gov. Rendell should take a look at what happened in neighboring Maryland where Gov. Robert Ehrlich advanced a plan to legalize slot machines without working out all the details first. The lesson is that if you're proposing something controversial, you'd better nail down every detail.

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