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February 11, 2011 | By | Posted in Legislature

Proposal Would Change Property Tax System

Lawmaker wants expanded sales taxes instead

A bipartisan caucus of 87 state House members is discussing a plan to reduce property taxes statewide by expanding the state sales tax to 74 items currently not subject to the state levy.

Pennsylvania’s state sales tax in 65 counties is currently 6 percent, and at 7 and 8 percent rates on covered items in Allegheny and Philadelphia Counties, respectively.

State Rep. Jim Cox (R-Berks) has taken up the cudgel to reduce or eliminate state property taxes from former state Rep. Sam Rohrer (R-Berks), who retired at the end of last year after an unsuccessful attempt to win the Republican nomination for governor.

Mr. Rohrer struggled against House Democrats and some Republicans for six years to get them to pass his proposal to eliminate all property taxes and replace them with an expanded sales tax base and a reduced sales tax rate.

It would be inaccurate to label Mr. Cox’s efforts as “Son of Sam” because even though the concept remains the same, Mr. Cox wants to find out what is possible before taking any measure before the full House.

“We want to formulate something that can make it through the House,” Mr. Cox said. That may wind up being an expanded sales tax base on only some items and, therefore, only a partial reduction in property taxes.

Mr. Rohrer’s plan “was a solid plan and I know it could have [wiped out property taxes],” Mr. Cox said. He said the bipartisan caucus is in search “of a concept we can agree on.”

Mr. Cox will also play on a different field than Mr. Rohrer did since the Republicans now hold a 21-vote majority in the 203-member House.

“We also have 97 new faces in the House since 2005,” Mr. Cox said, adding there is an education process for the new proposal among newer members. “How much does 0.1 percent on the sales tax generate? How much revenue is needed to eliminate property taxes? These are the types of information we are trying to provide to the caucus.”

Cox said he is also talking to trade and business associations to get their input about “what they could get behind.”

Additionally, and critically, Mr. Cox is attempting to reach out to Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who ran on a platform of not increasing taxes or fees in the commonwealth. No meeting has yet been scheduled.

Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington-based organization with which Mr. Corbett signed his highly publicized ‘no tax’ pledge has said a revenue-neutral tax swap does not constitute a tax increase.

Mr. Corbett’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.

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Jim Panyard is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Jim@PAIndependent.com.

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