Sponsor of House Republicans' property tax cut plan hopes for committee vote by next week

The sponsor of House Republicans' counter-proposal to Gov. Tom Wolf's property-tax relief plan outlined the details Tuesday and said the GOP blueprint would provide a straightforward shift of nearly $5 billion to slash local tax bills.

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"Taxpayers are tired of the gimmicks. They're tired of promises from politicians," Rep. Stan Saylor told the House Finance Committee.

Saylor proposes increasing the state personal income and sales taxes, as well as using $600 million in expected gaming revenue, to provide nearly $5 billion in state taxpayer-financed relief from rising property taxes in the state's 500 school districts following a two-year phase-in.

The York County Republican said he hopes the committee will send his bill to the floor next week.

Wolf's $4.2 billion plan proposes an identical increase in the income tax — from 3.07 percent to 3.7 percent — and tapping the gambling money for most of that revenue.

The governor also has proposed an increase in the sales tax, coupled with a call for repealing dozens of sales-tax exemptions that currently shield transactions ranging from nursing care to legal services from taxation.

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Wolf's spokesman, Jeffrey Sheridan, said Tuesday that revenue from the sales-tax proposals, which is expected to generate more than $1 billion, is not earmarked for the property-tax initiative but "could be a component" later on. Sheridan added that Wolf is glad the House Republican majority shares his goal of property tax relief.

"He looks forward to working with (the Republicans) to achieve tax relief for everyday Pennsylvanians, but he is committed to his plan," Sheridan said of Wolf.

Saylor's plan would provide two-tiered tax relief. It would funnel $2.7 billion in income-tax money for school boards to reduce the millage rates on which property taxes for homeowners and businesses are based and $1.6 billion in sales-tax money to expand the "homestead" program that reduces homeowners' taxes.

Unlike the governor's plan, Saylor's would not provide extra help for the state's poorest school districts, nor would it provide tax relief for renters.

Several Democrats on the committee expressed concern that Saylor's bill ignores the special needs of Philadelphia, the state's largest city.

Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, noted that the bill will boost the city's sales tax, already set at two percentage points above rate charged in most other party of the state, to 9 percent. He also bemoaned the lack of financial aid for the many Philadelphians who rent their homes.

Saylor said such inequities would work themselves out.

"You kind of spend what you have," he said. "The market will dictate what an apartment owner will charge."

In the Senate, the Republican majority has put public pension reform on the front burner and not taken a position on property-tax legislation.

"Property tax reform is a complicated issue with many different proposals to consider," said caucus spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher. "Pensions do remain the top priority for the Senate."