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End stalemate now in Pennsylvania tax debate

April 13, 2004

In his column this past Sunday, Peter Decoursey of the Harrisburg Patriot-News makes the point that while Senate Republicans and the Democratic governor have both prevented the other side from winning a struggle over taxes, all have ignored both parties' 2002 promise to cut property taxes.

Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell was elected governor following a legislative session in which the Republican majority borrowed from every possible source - including the state's Rainy Day fund - to avoid raising taxes during an election year.

That gave Rendell little wiggle room when trying to craft a bill that would lower property taxes and increase income taxes simultaneously, so that elderly homeowners on fixed incomes wouldn't be taxed out of their homes to support the state's schools.

But Rendell quickly found that while most lawmakers were willing to vote in favor of reducing one tax, they were more than a little reluctant to increase the other.

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The resulting stalemate kept state aid from going out on time last year, which in turn forced the school districts to either3er drain their reserves, or incur new costs for borrowing enough to keep the doors open.

The unintended consequence of this dithering, according to Decoursey, is that many school districts, fearing their future ability to raise taxes might be curbed, have raised them in a pre-emptive bid for new revenues.

There's an old political saying that says that "Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan." What that means is that when elected officials succeed in working together, there's plenty of credit to go around. When they fail, no one wants to take the blame.

But in truth both sides must share the blame for this lack of progress, Rendell for not doing a better job of selling his proposal to the average citizen and lawmakers, for losing sight of their constituents' welfare.

There is still time to make this right, but only if both sides forget about which of them will be perceived as the winner and start working together to craft a victory for the state's aging homeowners.

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