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Western Pennsylvania residents say fiscal cliff deal beats alternative

| Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, 12:13 a.m.

Becky Fenoglietto has heard so much griping about the Washington deal to avoid the federal “fiscal cliff” that she figures it must be a pretty good compromise.

For now, the self-employed Penn Hills attorney said she will wait to see how much the agreement impacts her family budget. The legislation belts top earners hardest, but an expiring 2 percent Social Security payroll tax break hits middle-income folks too: A worker making $50,000 will lose about $1,000 a year.

“I once clerked for a wise judge who told me that ‘if everyone's equally miserable, then you know you reached a good settlement,' ” said Fenoglietto, 48. “There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth on both sides. It must be one heck of a deal.”

Main Street reactions to the Washington agreement appeared similar to those on Wall Street, where markets rallied Wednesday. Although the deal's not perfect, many said, it beats widespread tax increases and deep spending cuts that might have triggered a recession.

“There are some big questions out there, and we'll have to see how that plays out, but certainly this is much better than the alternative,” said Gus Faucher, senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group, Downtown.

Like many Americans, Pam Miller, 53, of Cranberry said her family would continue to watch its spending and focus on basic needs.

“It's kind of a continuation of what we've been doing,” said Miller, a customer service representative at the Cranberry Township Municipal Center. “You tighten your belt a little more. What else can you do?”

Still, higher-income Americans — those with household incomes of more than $1 million — will shoulder more than 37 percent of the increased taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center.

“These are the people over the last decade who have received the lion's share of the tax benefits,” said Joseph Rosenberg, a researcher with the Washington-based group. “If you accept that you have to raise taxes on somebody, it's not unreasonable to look to them first.”

It's a fair deal if everyone contributes, said Philip Harris, 53, of Sewickley.

“The payroll tax cut was always meant to be temporary,” said Harris, a former bookstore owner and onetime president of the Sewickley Valley Chamber of Commerce. “It was nice while it lasted.”

Staff writers Bobby Cherry, Dona Dreeland, Deb Deasy, Tom Fontaine, Brad Pedersen and Patrick Varine contributed to this story. Andrew Conte is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7835 or andrewconte@tribweb.com.

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