Taxpayer Protections Get Up or Down Vote Today—But Not Here

While Election Day is relatively "quiet" in southwestern Pennsylvania and the rest of the state with judicial and municipal offices dominating the ballot, there are questions on the ballots in other states that could determine whether taxpayers gain control of their government’s growth.

In Maine and Washington, voters get to decide on Taxpayer Bill of Rights measures: both states would control revenue or expenditure growth by pegging them to the rate of inflation plus population change annually. The National Taxpayers’ Union Ballot Guide points out that in Maine, should the measure pass, growth above the cap would be returned to the taxpayers and used for a rainy day fund. In Washington voters would get approval of proposed tax increases that exceed the cap.

If Pennsylvania had a similar measure in place there would have been enough money to close the $2-$3 billion shortfall that the state recently wrestled with and will wrestle with again. Just by tying spending growth to the rate of inflation (measured by the change in the Northeast consumer price index) spending since 2002 (when the state budget was $20.4 billion) would have grown 22 percent instead of the actual 36 percent state taxpayers have seen, resulting in $3 billion in savings.

But don’t look for any type of tax control measure soon. Even the highly touted Act 1 school property tax reform measure has received minimal play on ballots across the state, thanks to the loopholes built into the language. Voters have had little opportunity to see a tax increase proposal placed before them, and few districts seem interested in asking their voters to consider a shift to a higher earned income tax or a personal income tax in order to fund property tax relief.