A loss of concentration

May 05, 2006

"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." - English author Samuel Johnson.

Harrisburg, Pa., is an ocean away from England, but the prospect of facing the May 16 primary elections without a deal on property taxes had Pennsylvania lawmakers concentrated on getting an agreement.

We say "had," because despite being OK'd by a House-Senate conference committee and approved by the state Senate on a 40-9 vote, the House has balked at taking any action before June.

Local lawmakers say the compromise solution would have provided too much relief to residents of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Scranton and not enough to the more rural areas.


Maybe so, but the idea of property-tax reduction has been on the table for four years and debated in a special session for months. At some point, the quest for a perfect piece of legislation has to give way to a compromise that will provide much-needed tax relief, especially to those who live on fixed incomes.

The proposal approved by the conference committee would have replaced the property taxes paid to the state's 501 school boards with a combination of lottery revenue and income taxes.

As reported by the Associated Press, the compromise would have, among other things, done the following:

Starting 2008, property taxes homeowners pay to school districts would be reduced using an estimated $1 billion in slot-machine revenue.

In 2007, a variety of senior citizens, widows, widowers and the disabled would get $200 million for property-tax and rent rebates.

Annual income limits for tax rebates would be increased from $15,000 to $35,000 and the maximum rebate from $500 to $650.

In 2007, school boards would have to ask voters to say whether they would like property-tax cuts funded in part by an increase in local income taxes.

School boards' ability to refuse to participate and limit how much they could increase taxes, with a few, narrow exceptions, would have been removed.

We can only hope that in June lawmakers can build on the progress made so far.

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