A sham of a tax bill

June 26, 2003

At the start of the current legislative session, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell asked the legislature to consider a plan to reduce local school districts' dependence on property taxes.

Most lawmakers liked that, but when asked to make up the revenue that would be lost by increasing income taxes, they balked, fearing future opponents would use the income-tax vote against them.

Now Senate President Robert Jubelirer, who should be exerting some leadership, wants to pitch this hot potato to the voters. What he proposes, however, is likely to be overturned by the courts, delaying school funding reform for at least another year.

Jubelirer's bill would allow voters to do a dollar-for-dollar trade, cutting property taxes in exchange for an equivalent increase in their income taxes. Jubelirer said it was "a rare opportunity to include the taxpayers as a partner" and would provide property tax relief without a state income tax hike.


It sounds more like an opportunity to fool the taxpayers into believing that they're getting a break, when in fact they would get nothing of the sort. Under Jubelirer's bill, if you get $100 in property-tax relief, you pay for it yourself with a $100 increase in your income-tax bill.

So what's the advantage? None for the taxpayers, but for lawmakers, the bill provides the opportunity to avoid the blame for any increase, since voters and not legislators would approve any changes.

The original purpose of Rendell's bill was to fix a school-funding system that relies too much on property taxes, hurting elderly homeowners on fixed incomes. Jubelirer's bill won't help them a bit.

Nor does Jubelirer's bill do anything to deal with the imbalance between poor districts and more affluent ones. Courts have ruled that it is not permissible for one district to spend (for example) $3,000 per pupil while another spends twice that much.

Here's the key question: If legislators refer every tough question to the voters, why bother electing them? Rendell's bill may be objectionable to some, but at least it's an honest attempt to deal with the problem, as opposed to a sham bill that encourages citizens to believe they're getting a break when they're not.

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