PA Political Math: Higher Taxes = Taxpayer “Savings”

A recent news release from Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Alan Novak congratulated “Republican leaders and lawmakers … for stopping Gov. Ed Rendell yet again from raising taxes on hard-working Pennsylvania families.”

Hmm, one has to wonder if Mr. Novak lives in the same Pennsylvania as we do. Because with such reasoning, this, too, would probably make sense.

Gov. Rendell: “I’ve figured out how to rejuvenate Pennsylvania’s economy!”

GOP Leadership: “Oh yeah, how’s that?”

Gov. Rendell: “We burn down every house in the commonwealth! Just think of all the jobs we’ll create if we just burn down every home in Pennsylvania!”

GOP Leadership: “We can’t do that Governor! That would be counter-productive! … (10-month pause)… How about burning just half of the homes down?”

Gov. Rendell: “Ok, I’ll sign that!”

GOP News Release: “GOP Saves Half of PA Homes from Rendell Fire.”

This is precisely the absurd kind of logic we are supposed to accept.

It all started a year ago this December. Just days before Christmas–after standing strong all year–the Republican leadership in both houses caved in to Gov. Rendell’s demands for higher taxes and fees. By joining forces with minority Democrats, General Assembly launched the first in a series of bi-partisan attacks on the paychecks of hard-working Pennsylvanians.

Remember, in our Pennsylvania, Republicans control both houses of the General Assembly by wide margins (109-94 in the House and 29-21 in the Senate). They could prevent all, if not most, of Gov. Rendell’s shenanigans. Yet taxes and fees increased by more than a billion dollars this year alone.

In our Pennsylvania, personal income taxes were raised by 10 percent. Cigarettes cost 35 cents more. Cell phones are taxed at one of the highest levels in the nation. It costs more to fish and boat. It has even become more expensive to die here.

Then, a few months later, nearly every member of the General Assembly voted to give the governor another billion dollars in borrowed money for politically driven “economic development” projects–bonded debt that our children will be forced to pay back over the next 20 years.

Finally, this past Independence Day, many of the same tax increasers helped Gov. Rendell give away monopoly gambling licenses for pennies on the dollar to wealthy corporations and political friends.

Gov. Rendell, of course, would like even higher taxes and fees than those delivered to him by the General Assembly. Indeed, he lobbied for 30 percent more of your paycheck in 2003–not the 10 percent the Republican and Democrat leadership eventually agreed to.

Apparently, for this income tax hike, we are supposed to be thankful. According to GOP party officials, “that yielded a huge payoff for Pennsylvania taxpayers, saving them more than $2.6 billion over the past fiscal year.”

Huh? It must be in that other Pennsylvania where taxpayers can save $2.6 billion when government confiscates an additional billion dollars from them. Just imagine the “savings” if Gov. Rendell had proposed a 100 percent tax increase!

The economic reality, however, is that no state has ever taxed, borrowed, or spent its way to prosperity. If it were possible, Pennsylvania would be an economic “leader among states and a competitor among nations.” Instead, we only lead the nation in the use of taxpayer-funded “economic development” and government spending.

As recently as 1998, Pennsylvania outpaced every other state in the nation in terms of state-based “economic development” funding. Indeed, in the years between 1995 and 2003, the Republican-dominated state government boasted of spending nearly $14 billion of taxpayer money on “job-creating economic development.” Yet, job growth in Pennsylvania during that 8-year period ranked 39th in the nation.

And during the 1990s, only Mississippi outpaced Pennsylvania in real per capita state government spending growth. Pennsylvania’s state and local governments will spend more than $100 billion combined this fiscal year. That’s more than $8,200 for every man, woman, and child in the commonwealth–up from nearly $4,400 in 1991.

Of course, none of this should bother us taxpayers because–thanks to the Republican and Democrat leadership in the General Assembly–we just saved $2.6 billion this year. And maybe next year, only half of our homes will burn down.

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Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation (, an independent public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg, PA. Permission is hereby granted to reprint in whole or in part, provided the author and his affiliation are cited.