Republicans are in trouble nationally. Democratic voters are more enthusiastic about voting this year, both in primaries and special elections. Democrats for Congress are out raising Republican incumbents. Republicans in tough seats are retiring. Trump’s approval is underwater, and has been consistently. They’re struggling to win elections in rural Ohio, southwestern Pennsylvania, and Alabama.
The struggles of Republicans may not reach the Pennsylvania state legislature though. Gerrymandered maps still stand, at least for now, and protect the Republicans. Democrats are in deep minorities in both houses, and haven’t won a majority since 2008. The Democrats’ House campaign arm had about $11k in the bank for their last report, while their leaders had flush bank accounts for themselves. Despite some strong candidates, nearly one in every district up this year, Democrats may not reap the rewards they should, particularly if organized labor “tightens it’s belt” on political spending after the Janus decision.
Republicans are preparing an offensive anyway, realizing they could still take losses this year, given the environment. Republicans are preparing to run their 2018 campaign on HB 76- a bill that would eliminate property taxes. That sounds really good, particularly in the Western and Northeast Pennsylvania battleground districts where Republicans can play offense to the blue collar electorate. The bill doesn’t work though. It leaves a $4 billion hole in the budget, with no mechanism to find that revenue. It does not address local school district and municipal debt, leaving the locals to fend for themselves when paying off bonds for large capital projects. The bill shifts the revenue burden onto local property taxes, causing large local tax increases. The bill will cause layoffs and cuts to services. HB 76 is nothing more than a political gimmick bill, masquerading as legislation. You don’t have to take my word for it- the Republican House Appropriations Chair doesn’t support it, because it’s a budget buster. The bill simply cuts taxes, kills education funding, and causes huge local tax increases.
The question is, what’s the Democratic alternative? HB 504 passed the House several years ago, but never got a Senate vote. That bill cuts property taxes, on average by 72%. It makes up the revenue by shifting to small increases on the EIT and PIT, both of which are more broad based. Property taxes can be cut, and made up for with taxing Marcellus Shale at a rate on par with other gas producing states, as opposed to the inadequate 1% “impact fee” Pennsylvania initially came up with. Ending the “Delaware Loophole” that shields corporations from state taxes, legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana, and selling more licenses for gaming and/or beer sales also can help the state find revenue. Just bringing HB 504 back up for a vote and passing it would provide immediate tax relief for low income Pennsylvanians and seniors. That’s an immediate, viable plan.
Instead, Republicans will attack incumbent and challenger Democrats using the broken and flawed HB76. They’ll say Democrats have stood in the way of property tax elimination. Don’t believe them. Republicans have controlled the State Senate since 1995, they’ve controlled the House since 2011, and 20 of the last 24 years overall. If Republicans want to pass this terrible legislation and eliminate property taxes, they can do so on a party line at any time. They won’t though, because they know it doesn’t work. Don’t send more of these conmen to Harrisburg to grandstand and not act.