School Strikes, Tax Repeal and Riverboat Gambling Before Legislature
HARRISBURG (AP) _ It took 34 days, one fist fight, hundreds of hours of negotiations and plenty of wheeling and dealing to pass the 1991-92 budget.
Now, the state’s top budget official and House and Senate leaders are worried they are heading for round two.
This week, lawmakers will try to iron out details of the state’s $3 billion tax plan and would have to reopen the package to do it. An avalanche of amendments from anti-tax proponents is almost inevitable.
″We’re very concerned,″ said Budget Secretary Michael Hershock.
Legislators repeatedly criticized the administration for taxing items they never intended the new law to cover and have urged leadership to reopen the tax bill.
Amid the recurring budget tangle, the chambers also plan to grapple with a controversial schools of choice bill, gambling and congressional reapportionment.
″I think it’s going to be a tough couple of days,″ said Stephen MacNett, top aide to Senate Majority Leader F. Joseph Loeper, R-Delaware.
House Republicans have a package of amendments to create a tax amnesty program, increase the family income limitation for poverty exemption, and eliminate the 6 percent sales tax on services and bakery goods.
The plan would also scale back taxes on cable television, dental floss, new car tires and other items lawmakers say were never intended in the tax bill passed in August.
Taxes on corporate net income and franchises would also be scaled back.
Minority Leader Matthew J. Ryan, R-Delaware, said the package would be introduced as soon as lawmakers return to session.
A group of rank-and-file Democrats are also ready with their own tax changes. The lawmakers announced last week they would propose amendments changing the way the state determines if residents are exempt from personal income taxes.
Under the old law, Pennsylvanians who earned less than $6,300 a year did not have to pay income taxes. Untaxed items such as Social Security, pensions, workers’ compensation, disability pay were not included in a resident’s income.
The Democrats said the new law raised the exemption income level to $7,000, but included the benefits as part of a resident’s income. The benefits remain untaxed, but they could push residents past the income level and open them to taxes on other earnings.
The lawmakers said they want to change the law to exclude those benefits from residents’ income levels.
In the Senate, a vote is expected on the school choice bill, which was maneuvered to the floor by amending language into an unrelated school code bill.
Sen. Frank Salvatore, R-Philadelphia, said he was tired of waiting for the Education Committee to move his bill, introduced last spring.
Several amendments are expected, including ones dealing with school prayer, school strikes and a constitutional amendment that would put the issue before the voters.
The House Education Committee was scheduled to consider a Senate-approved measure to make it more difficult for teachers to strike. Committee chairman Ron Cowell, D-Allegheny, said he wants to toughen the measure.
″I will suggest an amendment ... which would require school employees to give 36 hours’ notice before beginning any school strike,″ he said in a statement.
Also in the House, action is expected on a bill, pushed by Rep. Frank Gigliotti, D-Allegheny, to allow riverboat gambling in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Erie.