Monday, April 04, 2005

Homeowners haven't shown passion for tax plan

Homeowners haven't shown passion for tax planm Sunday, April 03, 2005

One of my favorite rules in politics comes from Senate GOP political guru Mike Long:

'If you take the folks who are mildly for your candidate, and give me a smaller number that are passionate for my candidate or issue, I will beat you every time. Because passionate people show up, they work and they vote. Folks who don't have a compelling reason to vote, often don't.'

Long's 'passion wins' theory seemed particularly appropriate to me after listening to Gov. Ed Rendell stump for his property tax reduction plan Thursday night.

See the rest of his remarks in the comments.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Of the 20 people I interviewed, 18 were for Rendell's plan. Only two opposed it. But those two cared enough to mount the podium and pepper the governor of Pennsylvania with questions on 'Talk To The Governor,' his monthly show on WITF-TV Harrisburg.

Most of the 18 supporters weren't even sure if they would pressure their school board to pass Rendell's plan, even though time is running out for school districts to opt in.

With only eight weeks left before the May 30 deadline, 496 of the state's 501 school districts have yet to enact Rendell's plan.

By entering into Act 72, the property tax reduction law, school boards agree to raise their earned income tax by 0.1 percent, and then can draw on future gambling funds.

Rendell said the $1 billion he believes gambling expansion will provide will give homeowners statewide an average tax reduction of about $330.

But school districts who agree to enter the program also would commit to limiting their future property tax increases. They would need voter approval through a referendum for increases above the inflation rate, except for 10 emergency cases.

This, by the way, is a classic case of a governor trying to have it both ways. To property taxpayers, he says his plan is real relief, and the referendum requirement is real. To school board members, he said Thursday night, 'everything you can think of that would cause a school board to really have to raise taxes above the inflation rate, is in one of the 10 exceptions. It's in there. I feel like I'm doing an ad for spaghetti sauce: It's in there!'

Of course, both cannot be true. Either the so-called back-end referendum protects taxpayers and limits school boards -- Rendell keeps saying to school board members that they might like to keep the power of unlimited tax increases, but 'that day is over' -- or it doesn't, and school boards can still raise taxes. Trying to make both arguments at once to different audiences does the governor's credibility on this issue no service.

And that is one of his problems here. No one, as Franklin & Marshall College pollster Terry Madonna pointed out, seems energized about this issue among Rendell's proponents. Pennsylvanians who want a property tax cut think he and the Legislature already voted them one. The odd trajectory of this bill -- it passed the Legislature and then went to the school boards for final approval, one by one, all 500 of them except Philadelphia -- pushed it under the public's radar.

Which returns us to 'Long's Law of Political Passion,' and Rendell's modus operandi of treating everything like a crisis. Rendell's genius is in being able to define an event as a crisis and get the public on his side, so that city council or the Legislature or a big business have to give more in the eventual compromise than they get, and have to adopt much or most of what Rendell asked for.

But most of the folks who are treating this as a crisis are the opponents of Rendell's plan --superintendents, teachers, school boards and parents, who say it is education-neutral.

Which is why the governor has begun to compare school boards around the state to the intractable unions he faced while mayor of Philadelphia. From his viewpoint, both are unreasonably standing in the way of progress.

AND NOW HE is even not-so-subtly threatening that their fight on this issue could hurt their goal of getting the state's share of public education up to 50 percent.

But the governor's real problem is that so far, he hasn't managed to engage the passions of those whom he claims support him on this issue: the 72 percent of homeowners who signed up for this program.

PETER L. DeCOURSEY: 255-8115 or