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Lawmakers split on plan to cut taxes

December 17, 2005|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -

Not only is the Pennsylvania General Assembly split on how to cut or eliminate real estate taxes in the state, it's even hard to find consensus among area representatives.

Eleven weeks into a special session called by Gov. Ed. Rendell to cut property taxes, the House of Representatives was only sure of what it would not pass. The Senate, meanwhile, approved its own property-tax cutting measure on Thursday and went home for the holidays.

"Not this year," said state Sen. Terry Punt, R-Waynesboro, of that body's efforts to reform taxes. "The senate has adjourned until January. We''ll come back full force then." Initially, Rendell called the special session in September to ask the legislature to force school districts to accept spending restrictions and the promise of gambling money for property tax cuts after most districts had rejected them.

Called Act 72, that plan came about as a hard-fought compromise between the Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled legislature to legalize slot machines, use one-third of the gambling revenue for property-tax cuts and control school spending increases that drive up property taxes.

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The Senate's plan calls on school districts to ask voters to raise local taxes on income to offset a property tax cut.

A House plan, introduced by state Reps. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, and Kerry A. Benninghoff, R-Center, would increase sales and state income taxes and include revenue from newly legalized slot-machine gambling to offset the elimination of property taxes.

Punt said he favors that plan, as does state Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Chambersburg.

"I don't know if it's a realistic goal right now, but I favor 100 percent elimination of property taxes," Kauffman said. He said he thinks the House is moving in that direction.

While Kauffman favors expanded sales taxes, he said he believes food and clothing, currently exempt, should continue to be excluded.

The House returns to continue its deliberations next week, Kauffman said.

State Rep. Pat Fleagle, R-Waynesboro, thinks the House and Senate are closer than ever to reaching an agreement on property tax reform.

Fleagle said he favors the Senate's plan because of its simplicity.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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