Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Rendell puts one over on senior citizens

The press release put out by Gov. Ed Rendell's office Tuesday began with a screaming headline: "Rendell Signs Bill to Deliver Largest Property Tax Cut in Pennsylvania History." That sure sounds like big news. Too bad it's not true. None of it.

Rendell posed in front of the cameras inside the Nanticoke home of senior citizen Nellie Hughes and put on a performance worthy of an Oscar.

"Today is a great day for Pennsylvania homeowners, especially seniors who have been driven from their homes as they attempt to escape the burden of skyrocketing property taxes for far too long," Rendell said. "After 30 years of debate and failed plans, Pennsylvanians like Nellie Hughes will finally get the tax relief they deserve."

Rendell is a smooth-talking politician who never lets the truth get in the way of self-serving adulation. The governor nearly dislocated his shoulder trying to pat himself on the back.

The $1 billion tax cut that Rendell took credit for Tuesday is not a tax cut after all. It's not even $1 billion. It's a rebate plan for a small group of senior citizens (600,000) who will have to hold on at least four more years to see any money. In other words, Nellie Hughes, who is 88, and the other seniors that Rendell is trying to snow may not live long enough to see their $200 rebate, which won't come until the 2009-10 school year at the earliest.

The rest of the state’s 12 million residents get nothing under Rendell's "property tax cut."

And the entire plan is predicated on the need for gamblers, many of whom are senior citizens, to lose $1 billion when the state's slot parlors finally open in 2009 or 2010. In the meantime, Rendell will borrow $400 million from the state lottery to fund the rebate scheme and pay it back from those future gambling revenues. This is what Rendell calls tax relief?

In the meantime, the school district Nellie Hughes lives in will raise property taxes in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 — guaranteed. If she's still alive, Nellie Hughes will most likely be paying more in taxes in 2010 than she is today. That's what Ed Rendell considers a property tax.

This is where the Kool Aid drinkers from the left chime in about how the tax rebate plan was passed by the Republican-controlled House and Senate. That is correct. The measure passed the Senate and House by wide margins.

But it did not become law until Gov. Rendell went to Nellie Hughes' home and signed the bill. The buck stops with Ed Rendell.

The Lynn Swann campaign also put out a press release Tuesday about Rendell's "Band-Aid property tax bill" that is a lot closer to the truth than anything Rendell's propaganda machine spit out. Swann's press release has the more accurate headline on it: "Legislation Leaves 80 percent of Pennsylvania's Homeowners Without Any Relief."

"With the signing of this legislation, Ed Rendell has made it official — he has broken his election year promise to 'drop property taxes for every Pennsylvanian by 30 percent,'" Swann said.

Swann couldn't help but take a jab at Rendell's use of the term "historic" to describe the tax rebate ploy.

"The last time Ed Rendell signed property tax legislation that he deemed 'historic,' it was called Act 72, and it was rejected by 80 percent of Pennsylvania's school districts," Swann said. "Since then, property taxes have skyrocketed nearly $2 billion under this administration, and Pennsylvania's homeowners have been left in the cold."

Hoping to finally kick-start his sluggish campaign to unseat Rendell, Republican Swann went on the offensive: "As the Governor declares 'We did it!' and signs this Band-Aid legislation, the majority of Pennsylvanians are looking at their rising property tax bills and wondering 'You did what!?'"

Swann recently introduced a plan that will provide every property owner in Pennsylvania with tax relief during Swann’s first year in office. The full plan can be viewed at www.swannforgovernor.com

Rendell's "plan" is an afterthought that comes four months before the election. It took Rendell 3½ years to finally address property taxes, but leaving 80 percent of homeowners without relief is not exactly a plan.

Voters will have a clear choice this November when they elect a new governor. More of Rendell's broken promises and parlor tricks or Swann's pledge to deal with property taxes in his first year in office.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com