Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Self-serving politicians are everywhere

I spent a few days at the Jersey Shore last week.

New Jersey gets a bad rap on many things, but I noticed during my visit that Jersey does some things better than Pennsylvania.

New Jersey roads are better maintained than the ones in Pennsylvania, where the pothole should be designated the state seal.

True, some of the roads in N.J., especially the ones leading to Shore destinations, are congested, but I noticed it was mostly Pennsylvania drivers clogging up the Garden State's highways.

I liked the law in N.J. that requires motorists to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. What a novel concept. In Pennsylvania, motorists tend to speed up when they see somebody attempting to cross the street. Pennsylvania drivers also seem to be under the wrong impression that stopping at red lights has become optional.

I was curious to see if there would be any complaints about the recent increase in the New Jersey state sales tax. I can report to you that not a single person minded the 7 percent sales tax recently enacted in New Jersey.

The 1-cent increase was negotiated by Democratic N.J. Gov. Jon Corzine and the state Legislature as a way to make up a budget shortfall and to provide property tax relief.

I know this is going to be hard to believe, but New Jersey property owners pay more in taxes than their counterparts in Pennsylvania, although N.J. residents make more money than workers in Pennsylvania, so maybe it's a wash.

While Ed Rendell has failed in four years to provide the property tax cuts he promised, Corzine found a way to do it in less than six months in office.

Several newspapers I picked up in N.J. reported that the state Legislature is already meeting to discuss ways to provide additional tax relief to property owners.

In contract, the Pennsylvania legislature is on its annual two-month summer vacation, having failed to come up with meaningful property tax reform for the 30th consecutive year.

Before you get the idea that I like Jon Corzine, I need to remind you that Corzine, like Rendell, lied to voters.

Corzine promised to cut taxes if he was elected governor, but he raised the sales tax in his first year. Turn back the clock and you had a similar scenario in Pennsylvania, where Rendell promised in 2002 to lower property taxes for every Pennsylvania taxpayer. It's 2006 and I'm still waiting for my property taxes to go down. Those are the very same property taxes that rose 22 percent while Rendell has been in the governor's mansion.

In 2003, Rendell pushed for a $1 billion increase in the Pennsylvania income tax. In 2004, Rendell pushed through casino gambling for Pennsylvania, which is a sneaky form of taxation. In 2005, Rendell pushed through the $52 EMS tax, which forces workers to pay $1 a week for the privilege of holding a job in Pennsylvania.

I couldn't help but laugh at Rendell's latest television ads that tout how he balanced the budget for four years in a row and cut taxes.

How dumb does Rendell think Pennsylvania voters are? The state constitution mandates a balanced budget. It has nothing to do with Rendell, who has borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars to finance his pet projects on top of the massive tax hikes he fought for. Long after Rendell leaves office, Pennsylvania taxpayers will be paying for his spending binges.

As for cutting taxes, Rendell is blowing smoke. He's borrowing money from the state lottery to send rebate checks to low-income senior citizens. The other 80 percent of taxpayers get nothing. You call that tax relief? And the only tax breaks for businesses came at the insistence of Republican legislators. Rendell reluctantly agreed to the business tax cuts in return for Republican votes to pass his $26 billion budget.

I guess the moral of the story is that you can travel 150 miles from home, but you still can't get away from self-serving politicians.

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

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