No vote on Pa. tax cut bill

May 04, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Vowing that property-tax relief will come in the next few years, state Rep. Patrick E. Fleagle, R-Franklin, said Republicans decided to delay a vote on the bill before them Wednesday because it wouldn't have reached "a broad range of our constituency."

A yes/no vote on Special Session House Bill 39, which touted property tax cuts through gambling revenue, was postponed until at least June just one day after being approved 40-9 by the Pennsylvania Senate.

The measure, released by legislative negotiators Monday, was championed by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and would have favored senior citizens and residents of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Scranton, critics said.

"The vast majority of my taxpayers wouldn't have seen any kind of relief," Fleagle said.

"It just didn't go far enough. ... For middle-income workers, it does next to nothing," said state Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin, who was one of the nine to vote against the measure in the Senate.


Fleagle said the feeling of the 100-plus-member Republican Caucus was that "progress was made by the conference committee" that developed the proposal and that they will return in June under the sentiment that they can and will do better.

House Democrats reacted angrily to the Republican decision, saying they suspected the move was designed to hurt Rendell, who is running for re-election after campaigning four years ago on a platform of legalizing and taxing slot-machine gambling to reduce property taxes statewide.

"To say that we're disappointed ... would be an understatement," said Michael R. Veon, the House Democratic whip. "To say that we're outraged also is an understatement."

Rendell had called the special legislative session after Act 72 of 2004 was rejected by the majority of the state's 501 school districts, all of which had been given the option of participating. Under Special Session House Bill 39, voters in nearly all the school districts would have decided next year whether they would want to offset additional property tax cuts of at least 25 percent by increasing local wage taxes.

The measure also would have capped increases in school districts' annual spending to the rate of inflation, with few exceptions.

Punt said the measure had provided Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Scranton with 50 percent more relief than the rest of the state and had loopholes "big enough you could drive 27 Mack trucks through."

Had it provided tax cuts to more people, his vote might have changed, Punt said.

"A large segment of our population was left out," Punt said.

Southcentral Pennsylvania legislators are pretty much unified in their concerns about the bill, Fleagle said.

State Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland, on Wednesday evening still shied from labeling the measure "reform" after Tuesday calling it "almost an insult to the homeowners in Pennsylvania."

Benefits would have begun trickling out next year and expanded in subsequent years as the flow of gambling revenue increased to meet projections of $1 billion annually by 2009 or 2010. There are 14 permits to soon be awarded for the state's first slot machine parlors.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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