EDITORIAL: Wolf's sales tax plan too broad

York Dispatch

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a bold tax-restructuring plan to deal with a roughly $2 billion budget deficit while also boosting education spending.

It's the kind of outside-the-box thinking Pennsylvania needs right now.

The governor would provide sweeping property tax rebates for low-income and middle-class families while raising the personal income tax rate from 3.07 percent to 3.7 percent. The state sales tax also would jump, from 6 percent to 6.6 percent, and expand to include items now exempt.

Of course, we know the Democrat's spending plan has almost zero chance of making it past the GOP-controlled Legislature unchanged.

And sure enough, a group of Republicans this week unveiled a counter-proposal authored by state Rep. Stan Saylor and supported by about two dozen other legislators, including every member of York County's delegation.

Saylor's House Bill 860 also promises to cut property tax bills by about half.

Like Wolf, the Windsor Township Republican would pay for it by increasing the personal income tax rate to 3.7 percent — but he would go even further with a state sales tax hike, boosting it to 7 percent.

Unlike the governor, however, Saylor would not expand the list of items and services subject to the higher levy.

That's one significant difference, to be sure.

But frankly, we're encouraged to see a plan so similar to Wolf's, at least in the broad strokes.

As we've said before, the GOP-controlled Legislature and the veto-wielding Democratic governor must compromise if they hope to accomplish anything.

The Republican sponsors of HB 860, at least, have shown a willingness to bend. (In case you haven't noticed, GOP lawmakers don't do tax increases. Period.)

Now would be a good time for Wolf to reciprocate — and he should start by winnowing his proposed list of taxable goods and services.

We happen to think more items should be subject to the sales tax. Race horses? Airline catering? Candy bars? Why in the world were they ever exempt in the first place.

But the governor's plan goes too far, we believe.

Taxing nursing, residential and personal care services, for instance, would have a devastating effect on a particularly vulnerable segment of our society.

Seniors could find themselves priced out of private care, and nonprofits resources might be stretched thin, forcing them to turn away people in need.

And as one letter-writer pointed out last week, seniors often have to sell everything they have in order to afford nursing home care; there won't be any property tax relief for them under Wolf's plan.

There's a middle ground in there somewhere. Let's hope the two sides can work together to find it.