Proposed budget increases Pitt’s funding, lifts sales tax exemptions

By Michael Macagnone

In addition to slightly increasing Pitt’s appropriation, Gov. Ed Rendell’s proposed… In addition to slightly increasing Pitt’s appropriation, Gov. Ed Rendell’s proposed budget would lower sales tax around the state while extending the tax to previously exempt goods and services.

In Allegheny County, the tax would drop from 7 to 5 percent. In Philadelphia, it would drop from 8 to 6 percent.

Everywhere else in the state, it would decrease from 6 to 4 percent.

This lower sales tax would be set off by the removal 74 “non-essential” state sales tax exemptions, including textbooks, personal hygiene products, caskets and burial vaults, firewood, candy and flags. The state would join the 43 states that tax personal hygiene products, 37 states that tax caskets and burial vaults, 23 states that tax firewood and 31 states that tax flags, according to a summary from the state.

Food, clothing and prescription medication will remain untaxed.

Rendell said in his speech before the State Legislature yesterday morning that the current sales tax system was unfair, and exemptions existed because of the influence of special interest groups.

Rendell’s plan for Pennsylvania’s state budget for the fiscal year, beginning July 1, listed the appropriation for Pitt at just under $168 million, more than $7 million larger than the appropriation last year.

The $29 billion budget includes $2.7 billion in federal stimulus funds, and $26.3 billion of state money, Rendell said.

Last year, a conflict in the state legislature over the budget resulted in the state missing the constitutionally mandated deadline of July 1 by more than three months. Pitt did not receive its state appropriation until December of last year.

Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, who represents part of Allegheny County, said in a news release that Rendell’s budget is “a good first step” for passing that budget on time.

Last year the state appropriation made up more than 9 percent of Pitt’s budget.

Rendell’s proposed budget does not include more than $10 million in federal funds that funnel to Pitt through the state. The state appropriation totaled more than $160 million last year, and the federal funds were more than $16 million.

Pennsylvania classifies Pitt as a “state-related university” meaning that while the money is set aside in the state budget, the legislature needs to pass a separate law to send Pitt the appropriation. The state appropriation to Pitt last year came in $9 million less than budgeted after a battle over allowing table gaming in Pennsylvania.

Most University offices remain closed because of the weather, and Pitt spokesman John Fedele said that Pitt would not be able to comment today.

In his address to the state legislature, Rendell called it a “status quo budget” that did not contain and broad spending increases or tax increases, but would change the state’s tax structure.

Continuing with the discussion of the new sales tax, Rendell said tax changes would spread the tax burden out among more of Pennsylvania’s residents and businesses, and “make sure everyone pays their fair share.”

The budget would also eliminate a deduction businesses receive for filing their taxes on time, and put an extraction tax on natural gas taken from Marcellus shale, a large rock formation that runs through parts of Pennsylvania and New York.

New drilling technology allows for the extraction of the gas from the porous rock, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s website.

Rendell said that he also wanted to close the “Delaware loophole” that allows businesses to pay less on state taxes by registering a mailing address in Delaware.