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We took some shots yesterday at Ricky Burgess's proposal that all Pittsburgh property tax hikes be approved by voter referendum, noting how that's exactly the kind of system that has hurt California (since voters hardly ever approve them), and that the city has a decent record of lowering taxes anyway.

Noting that Councilman Burgess has pitched the referendum as protection for low-income Pittsburghers, the sage Chris Potter at City Paper takes the argument another step:

It's impossible to raise the 3rd- and 4th-largest revenue sources -- the payroll-preparation and parking taxes, respectively -- because those tax rates are capped by state law. The state has also capped the Local Services Tax, which generates more than $12 million a year. Other major revenue streams come from sources, like grant money and authority payments, that you can't really count on seeing increases from.

So if a referendum did take real-estate taxes off the table, the only major revenue source left is the wage tax. Which means that if the pinch comes -- either due to pensions or some other cause -- working-class folks who rent apartments would likely see their taxes increase.

That hardly seems fair. And it's not necessarily great politics either (though Burgess, to his credit, doesn't always seem too concerned by that consideration). Squirrel Hill and Shadyside have plenty of affluent homeowners who'd be happy for a chance to vote down a property-tax hike. Meanwhile, there's no shortage of working-class renters in Burgess' district who'd likely end up footing the bill instead. And they would have no recourse at all. On the face of it, it's hard to see why that is a blow for economic justice.

Presidential-candidate-to-be Rick Santorum has hired a former campaigner for Tommy Thompson and Pat Buchanan to be his director in all-powerful New Hampshire. From the former senator's PAC:

Washington, DC – Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) announced today that campaign veteran Mike Biundo will serve as State Director in New Hampshire for Senator Santorum’s political action committee, America’s Foundation.  Biundo has served as a senior advisor, campaign manager and grassroots director to numerous statewide and congressional campaigns, including Congressman Frank Guinta’s 2010 victory over incumbent Carol Shea-Porter.

“As former Senator Santorum continues to consider a run for president, I am pleased to have the opportunity to play a part in that process. The Senator’s fiscally responsible approach to government and vision for America’s future will play well here in New Hampshire,” said Biundo.  “I look forward to working with Senator Santorum and America’s Foundation in the months ahead.”

“I am thrilled to have Mike a part of our team.  His experience and knowledge will be invaluable in New Hampshire,” said Santorum.  “As I continue on this journey, it is important we determine our ability to build grassroots support and Mike will be an integral part of this process.”

In addition to Biundo’s most recent work with Congressman-elect Guinta, he played a senior role in several presidential campaigns including most recently former Governor Tommy Thompson and the winning 1996 campaign of Patrick J. Buchanan in New Hampshire.  Biundo was instrumental in Guinta’s 2005 upset for mayor of Manchester and then again when Guinta ran for re-election in 2007.

More here on the hire -- and Guinta's importance in NH -- here at National Journal.

From the PG's Debra Duncan:

Democratic Westmoreland County Commissioner Tom Balya, who first took office in 1996 and has been chairman since 2000, announced today he will not run for re-election this year.

Mr. Balya, 53, said it is time to pursue other interests.

"In the words of Chuck Noll, it is time for me to get on with my life's work," said Mr. Balya during a press conference at the Palace Theater in Greensburg this morning.

Mr. Balya is not sure what his next job will be, but he said he will serve the remainder of his term as chairman.

Two of our new local senators are among the Top 10 legislators to watch in the new Congress, says Chris Cillizza at the WashPost:

1. Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey (R): Toomey is a man in the middle. His strong fiscal conservatism gives him credibility among the tea party crowd but he's spent time in the House and has cordial relationships with the party establishment too. How does Toomey navigate between the two camps?

. . . 10. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D): Manchin got elected last fall by running directly against the Obama Administration's main legislative priorities. Does he keep that anti-everything approach as an actual senator or does he let leadership bend his ear (and his vote) on some issues? Remember that Manchin has to stand for a full term in 2012 and Republicans will be watching each and every vote very carefully for signs that the former governor has "gone Washington".


The lede from the Inquirer's Amy Worden says it all:

HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania's legislators returned to the Capitol on Tuesday, placed their hands on their Bibles, and were sworn in. They took a few votes, celebrated a bit, and then left for a two-week hiatus.

(Above: Mike Turzai. AP photo)

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