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Keep tax reform debate in focus

THE TERMS “TAX reform” and “tax fairness” have a nice ring to them, suggesting the system is hopelessly conked out and in need of an overhaul.

But the public must keep in mind that to politicians, these terms are about how local government revenue is generated, not how much money is collected. Tax reform doesn’t reduce taxes – it simply alters how they’re levied with the intention of making them evenhanded.

Luzerne County Commissioner Greg Skrepenak, a proponent of expanding ways that county governments can raise revenue, is hosting a “Tax Fairness Forum” tonight at Luzerne County Community College in Nanticoke. The focus will be on legislation to empower counties to impose a 1 percent sales tax and/or a personal income tax up to 1 percent.

We encourage the public discussion, but participants should be armed with relevant background to make the discussion as meaningful as possible.

For starters, by state decree, the real estate tax is the largest source of local revenue for most county governments in Pennsylvania, including Luzerne County. The state legislature must take action to allow counties to impose new taxes.

Adding to the state’s 6 percent sales tax can be regressive by placing a greater burden on low-income families by taxing a greater percentage of their disposable income. It also could put county merchants at a disadvantage because they would be compelled to collect a higher tax on the same products than those in neighboring counties.

In every sense, the countywide property reassessment is a type of tax reform. For decades the antiquated data was inequitable because changes in the real estate marketplace and communities were not factored in. A reassessment, in theory anyway, updates the data so all properties have been evaluated according to the same standards.

Luzerne County is in the midst of cutting the equivalent of 100 full-time positions and many or all part-time posts to save about $3 million in 2009. Turf battles, litigation and union issues complicate the adoption of the $130 million spending plan by Dec. 17.

The county has plenty of red meat on its plate to chew and digest right now. It should continue getting its own house in order before given new ways to tax us.

Forum on taxes

Where: Room 131 of the Educational Conference Center, Luzerne County Community College, Nanticoke

When: 7 tonight

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