Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hoeffel: Pittsburgh Needs More Revenue. [*]

"I do know that Pittsburgh needs more options for local taxes," Pennsylvania candidate for governor Joe Hoeffel said yesterday afternoon, on a conference call with "progressive bloggers" from across the state.

"It's bad for a government to rely on one tax so heavily -- and the property tax is such an unfair tax!" He made reference to lost homes and a weak correlation between property value and ability to pay.

The Governor of Pennsylvania gets to appoint the chair of the 5-member Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA), as well as directly appoint or influence the appointment of many officials at the ICA and at the Act 47 Team -- the two bodies which govern Pittsburgh money matters. Pittsburgh was declared a financially distressed city six years ago, and receives some state protections along with increased state oversight.

When asked about the possibility of a Commuter Tax, the Montgomery County commissioner pointed out that Philadelphia employs a "significant" Wage Tax on all persons who work in the City -- which is similar in function to Pittsburgh's Occupational Privilege Tax, which sometimes itself gets called a Commuter Tax. Some in Pittsburgh have considered raising that tax from $52 to about $150 annually, but the oversight boards and the state have not gone along. He says he would favor something along those lines for Pittsburgh.

"The Mayor -- acting in good faith -- proposed what I think is a bad idea," that being the Tuition Tax now being considered. "But I can't really criticize him for proposing it, because the City needs more revenue."

On levying a "payroll preparation" tax on the non-profits, he said, "That's tricky" due to the legal issues, but that he does not yet know enough about Pittsburgh's notions in that regard. *

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has often stated that "it's irresponsible to say 'you can't do this' without coming up with a solution to the problem." State Auditor General Jack Wagner -- another candidate for governor -- said today of the Tuition Tax that "it is not a time to increase taxes."


Earlier during the call, Hoeffel repeated his call to exploit Pennsyvlania's natural resources for jobs and energy, and his call to levy an Extraction Tax that coal, oil and other energy companies would pay to cover environmental remediation.

"That's the only way to deal with it in an intelligent way."

Since some damage can not be remediated -- the wrong ground water well gets contaminated, for example, and that's it -- Hoeffel was asked whether it would also be necessary to strengthen regulatory oversight and roll back relatively recent "streamlining" among permitting bodies.

"I think we have to, if not reverse it, we have to catch up to these environmental issues," Hoeffel said. "D.E.P. has to step up to the plate, and has to have the funding to do so." This returned him to the Extraction Tax.


Hoeffel also reemphasized his call on Tom Corbett and the other gubernatorial candidates to support state bills that would expand both hate crime and anti-discrimination legislation to include protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

One voice on the call pointed out that Hoeffel has one of the only websites that makes clear his position on abortion.

"I'm not sure why they don't stress these issues," Hoeffel said of his Democratic opponents, upon being asked. "I'm trying to set an example. I'm gonna lead by example."


Hoeffel had recently returned from the Pennsylvania Society weekend retreat in New York.

"First of all, it was oversubscribed," Hoeffel informed us. "1,500 people packed into the Waldorf Astoria."

In addition to his attendance at that event, he also hosted a "midnight reception" at the W Hotel across the street.

"You know, a little edgier. We called it 'Hoeffel After Dark'."

He said that although this was his first time at the society's Dinner, he'd been to "the event" before. During this year's political pilgrimage he had the honor of speaking before the PA Manufacturers' Association -- as one out of only three Democrats accorded a speaking role at that event. He says he just laid out his usual ideas regarding jobs and environmental concerns.

"It was ... well received."

*-UPDATE: At a campaign event in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of East Liberty, Hoeffel clarified his remakrs about allowing Pittsburgh to explore a Payroll Preparation Tax that can be applied to some of its largest nonprofits (e.g. the "Eds" and "Meds").

"I don't want to come off sounding too negative about that idea," he said. "I think it's a very appropriate tax base."


  1. Not a word about creating efficiencies or reducing spending. I'm not surprised, so don't you be when Mr. Hoeffel fails to capture the atttention of the electorate.

    There is no courage in a platform built on innovating spending.

  2. ##coughdrinktax##

    The real question is, what *is* going to capture the attention of the electorate then?

  3. Drink tax... exactly!!!

    I actually switched parties so I could vote against Dan in the primary. Arlin too...


  4. I think its wagner for governor. He and specter would be the best ticket we have.

    Dont particularly care for sestak.. but i think the guvs race will be the hot ticket in a brawling match between onorato and wagner.

  5. Well this just came across the wire: JH's Plan for Pennsyvlania. "The Economy Has Changed, and So Must We" and so forth.


  6. Mr. Anonymous, can you honestly look around our state, at our half-rate transit system and depressed urban centers, and conclude that reducing government spending is a sound objective? Everybody is in favor of creating greater gov efficiencies, lets not suggest that JH isn't based on this second hand account of one phone conference.

  7. CORRECTION - I had "Operational Privilege Tax" up for like two weeks, when Pittsburgh in fact has an OCCUPATIONAL Privilege Tax. C'mon guys, you're my only editors.

    @Caesar - I hear what you're saying, but I was on the call, so this is a "first hand account" of the call.