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Pennsylvania

Cranberry lawmaker believes Rendell will try to raise income tax, organizes protest

| Monday, June 8, 2009

HARRISBURG — Following the example of this year's anti-tax tea parties, Republican Rep. Daryl Metcalfe is urging Pennsylvanians to protest an income tax increase at the state Capitol on Tuesday.

Representatives from the National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens Against Higher Taxes and the National Federation of Independent Business will speak at a rally in the rotunda at 10 a.m.

Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, hopes taxpayers spend the day lobbying legislators against an income tax increase he believes has been Gov. Ed Rendell's plan all along.

Rendell has said a broad-based tax increase is a last resort to close the state's $3.2 billion deficit.

"We encourage participation in the political process by people on all sides of all issues, even though rallies such as this seldom change legislators' views," said Chuck Ardo, Rendell's spokesman. "Saying no to taxes is easy. Saying no to Pennsylvanians who turn to government for services is much more difficult."

A $27.3 billion budget backed by Senate Republicans has been criticized for its drastic cuts but would not require an increase in taxes. Rendell's plan would spend $29 billion and dip into the state's $750 million savings account.

"The governor has played this game before," Metcalfe said. "Only in an unprecedented year like we're seeing do we even have the possibility to really hold these people's feet to the fire ... the big spenders down here."

The governor's proposals to generate revenue by taxing Marcellus Shale natural gas reserves and tobacco products are "smoke and mirrors," Metcalfe said.

"They're trying to sell this to the average citizen like 'Oh, that isn't going to affect you,'" he said. "Really, it does. Whatever taxes they impose will elevate their level of spending, so the next year they have to maintain that level of spending."

Hoping for "standing room only," Metcalfe promoted the protest on radio talk shows.

"Ten percent of the people who showed up to see the Steelers win the Super Bowl — if they would descend on the Capitol, it would be historic for this building," Metcalfe said.

Among speakers will be James Broussard, chairman of Citizens Against Higher Taxes, an organization established 20 years ago to fight then-Gov. Robert Casey's income tax increase.

"When you come right down to it, a tax increase is really a pay cut for taxpayers," Broussard said. "We're really shooting ourselves in the head if we say 'Come to Pennsylvania and we'll cut your pay.' "

Few observers seem to believe there are enough votes now for a tax increase in either the Democratic-controlled House or the Republican-controlled Senate. No formal proposal has come to the floor for debate.

"If the public is to swallow this, you have to make a convincing case that the alternatives are even worse," said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

The public, Borick said, is generally skeptical that a tax increase is the only option, and an income tax increase draws a particularly negative reaction when people are surveyed about which tax they'd rather see raised.

Pennsylvania's income tax last increased in 2003, to 3.07 percent.

Rendell suggested temporarily increasing the income tax rate. Rendell said the income tax could rise to 3.37 percent for as long as it takes to ease Pennsylvania through the recession and smooth over the disappearance of federal budget aid in two years.

That would mean a person with $50,000 in taxable income would pay an extra $150 a year. For the state, it would raise about $1 billion a year.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman, R-Centre, said the income tax would have to increase a full percentage point to close the deficit under Rendell's plan. For someone with $50,000 a year in taxable income, that would raise the state tax bill by $500 a year, to $2,035.

"The people of Pennsylvania are living with less now, and the government has to do the same," Corman said. "We've shown you can do it without a tax increase."

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