Gov. Rendell this week raised the prospect of taxing items currently not subject to the state's 6 percent sales tax. His press secretary, Gary Tuma, yesterday stressed that the Guv won't consider taxing food or clothing but that "other things could be discussed."
I think that puts it mildly.
"We're not going to get out of this without adding some new money," says Philly Democrat Rep. Dwight Evans, a key budget player. "It's just a question of when."
And although Republicans don't support increases in big revenue-producing taxes such as the personal-income tax or sales tax (it appears that Philly will hike its local sales tax from 7 to 8 percent), some of them seem willing to discuss smaller, targeted tax hikes.
When I ask GOP Senate spokesman Eric Arneson if Republicans see a need for new revenue, he says, "We're not there yet."
This, to me, suggests that we're headed there.
If we do hike taxes impacting personal consumption such as on cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, candy, gum and such, or increase taxes impacting families, such as on realty transfers or inheritance, we could move up the national ladder of most-taxed states.
I'd remind you that Philadelphia already is America's top-taxed city; and when it comes to individuals' taxes, Pennsylvania is no slouch.
Back in March, the business and financial news giant Forbes.com compiled a list of the top-10 states in terms of personal-tax burden, based on U.S. Census data and excluding all but individual taxes.
Pennsylvania ranked 10th, at $2,223 per person.
Forbes says that the high national ranking is due to the state sales tax, income tax and high tobacco, utility and motor-vehicle taxes.
It's partly geo-demographic, too. Six of the 10 states are in the Northeast (Vermont's first, Connecticut third, New Jersey fifth, New York sixth and Massachusetts seventh). Forbes says that this is due to higher incomes and higher property taxes.
The nonpartisan, Washington-based Tax Foundation also ranks according to tax burden. Its latest survey, in 2008, put Pennsylvania 11th-highest. It ranked the state 15th-highest in 2003, the year Rendell took office.
The state Revenue Department, the agency that collects state taxes, says that it has not reviewed the Forbes data, claims that the Tax Foundation uses some data unfair to Pennsylvania and notes that raw Census data (that includes all taxes) ranks Pennsylvania 21st in per-capita taxation.
There are alternatives to raising taxes. Adding table games to existing slots casinos, for example, could bring in a quick $150 million to $200 million in licensing fees.
But even though some Republican leaders say that they can support such expansion, and Rendell says that he'd sign a bill authorizing it, both sides in the budget battle are reportedly anywhere from $300 million and $1 billion apart. So it seems that some tax increase will be part of a final deal.
When it comes to taxes, the late Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. often is quoted: "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society."
Maybe Pennsylvanians, especially those living in Philly, should look around and ask if they're getting their money's worth.
Just something to chew on.
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