City's latest tax increasesignals need for alliance

May 27, 2004

City's latest tax increasesignals need for alliance

Hagerstown Councilman Lynn Hendershot is correct when he says the 1.9-percent property tax increase passed Tuesday night was not a big one.

The problem is that it's the fourth one in four years, which is not a good advertisement for new businesses or residents. For the next year, the council needs to dedicate itself to the idea of holding the line on taxes, by either cutting programs or finding new revenues.

The latter would be easier to accomplish if the city could find a way to make progress on the issues it has with the Washington County government.

Those include a renegotiation of the tax-differential payment and negotiating a share of the excise, transfer and hotel-motel taxes.

The tax-differential payment is a lump sum the county government provides to the city on the idea that through their county taxes, city residents pay for some county services they don't use.


The excise and transfer taxes were enacted to pay for school renovation and construction, while the hotel-motel tax funds tourism and economic development.

How much sharing of those revenues would be equitable? Some of that is being worked out now by a committee made up of two county commissioners and two city councilmembers.

It is vital that some agreement be reached before the end of the current council's term. If not, the commissioners may have to start over with a whole new group.

That's what happened to the city council when Commissioners Bert Iseminger and John Schnebly left the county board. New commissioners had to get up to speed on the issues, which took time that neither side could afford to lose.

Without an agreement to work together, economic development will be hurt, not to mention the quality of life, if two entities that should be allies continue to waste time and money, as they did on the annexation-policy lawsuit last year.

We ask all county residents - and city residents are county residents, too - to call on their elected leaders to stop thinking in terms of which side will prevail and start thinking about how both governments can work together.

Other cities and counties around the country have done it successfully, so if cooperation doesn't succeed here, it won't be for lack of a blueprint, but a lack of will to make it happen.

Gas tax ideas, good and bad

It probably has plenty of appeal to citizens experiencing shock over $2-per-gallon gasoline prices, but we agree with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who says that cutting the state's gasoline tax is a "bad idea."

There are ways to cope with this situation that do not include cutting the source of funds needed to main the state's roads and bridges.

The 12-cent-per-gallon cut in the state's gasoline tax was proposed Tuesday by state Sen. Allyson Schwartz, D-Philadelphia and Rep. Peter Daley, D-Washington County.

Schwartz, who just happens to be running for Congress this year, said that higher gasoline prices "create a massive drag on the economy, slowing the recovery and stifling job creation."

Under the proposal, the tax cut could last as long as six months, or for only three months if the average price of a gallon of gasoline falls below $1.80.

Gov. Rendell opposed this, saying that it would cost the state funds needed to maintain the the state's transportation infrastructure.

We believe he's right, for a couple of reasons. There is no guarantee that oil companies would cut the price they charge at the pump. Then the state's loss would be the oil industry's gain.

But more important, cutting the tax would postpone work on a long-term solution to the nation's energy needs.

Because high demand is part of the problem, wouldn't it make more sense to use some of that transportation money to replace cars in the state's fleet with so-called hybrid cars?

Wouldn't it make sense to use some of the gas-tax money to convert municipal bus fleets to run on natural gas, or to the new hybrid engines that burn a mixture of diesel and used vegetable oil of the sort that fast-food restaurants discard by the gallon?

Wouldn't it make more sense to devise a plan to reward citizens who conserve, by cutting fees for personal hybrid vehicles, or rebating part of hybrid drivers' gasoline taxes?

Pennsylvania's drivers need some long-term solutions, not quick grabs at a fix that may not work past the next election.

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