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Rick Santorum is among the GOP presidential contenders going to a party in Chicago next month marking the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan. The Feb. 5 fete is being hosted by the Republican Party of Illinois, where Reagan was born. (Roll Call)

Bad idea . . . or worst idea ever?

Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess is proposing a referendum on the May ballot that would require all property tax increases to be approved by voters. Here's Joe Smydo:

If the referendum is approved -- that is, if voters say they want the authority to accept or reject future tax increases -- no tax hike could occur without voter approval in a subsequent ballot question.

"The residents of the city of Pittsburgh have an inherent right to place limits on their rates of local taxation," Mr. Burgess' office said in a statement announcing the legislation, which would amend the city's Home Rule Charter. "Property owners in more affluent neighborhoods do not pay their fair share in property taxes, creating an unfair tax burden on property owners in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods."

Nobody likes tax increases, and certainly one can question the budgeting prowess of Pittsburgh government. But (rhetorical question ahead) is going to that level of governing by initiative and referendum a good idea? Answer: Nein. You only have to look at California and freshly departed Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger for why.Schwartzenegger

Schwartzenegger was elected in 2003 after voters recalled Gov. Gray Davis. Though hugely popular (he bested his nearest rival by 17 percentage points) his administration and the state government were bogged down from the start, partially due to California's crippling reliance on referenda. Government reformers long ago championed the practice as a way to put in the place the same kind of direct democracy the Rev. Burgess is advocating now, but instead it mostly became a way for voters to say no to most everything. As a result, the governator left office yesterday with California in a staggeringly grim financial condition, partially due to rules that require a two-thirds vote by the legislature just to get a tax referendum on the ballot (where it will probably lose anyway).

And its reputation to the contrary, it's not like Pittsburgh government is tax-crazy -- its two biggest levies on wages and property haven't been increased in years, and if anything, it has more experience in lowering them than raising them. (That includes lowering the wage tax in the Masloff administration, lowering the amusement tax after RAD, and getting rid of the business privilege tax during the tax shifting of the 2004 state bailout.)

The sole major tax it has raised is the perpetually-politicized parking tax, which the state required to be lowered in the same 2004 bailout.

Of course there is more to Burgess's proposal than meets the eye, until that eye gazes on this colorful bubble map from Chris Briem and the good people at the Pittsburgh Neighborhood and Community Information System. The Homewood councilman and political foe of Doug Shields, Bill Peduto and the other mayoral critics on council has framed his call for referenda as a defense for low-income taxpayers who he says are over-burdened by property taxes. And where might be the neighborhoods with the most valuable land to tax?

Why, in those areas that Shields, Peduto (and fellow mayoral critics Natalia Rudiak and Bruce Kraus) represent of course. And might this have something to do with the oncoming property reassessments too, which could lead to some property tax sticker shock in said neighborhoods this summer and fall? (We'll leave that one to Briem to wrestle with.)

Full map from PNCIS here of the total assessed value of all taxable property by city neighborhood, excluding tax delinquent parcels, with a smaller version below:


UPDATE: Burgess and his wife owed $4,000 in back taxes going back years, but paid up in full after being contacted yesterday by KDKA. (KD/Pgh Comet)

House Republicans have set a vote for next Wednesday, Jan. 12, on repealing Obama's health care reform bill. The legislation likely won't stand a chance with Democrats in the Senate and never get to the president's desk for a sure-fire veto, but it may still put anti-HCR Democrats such as Jason Altmire and Mark Critz on the spot. (Unlike Altmire, Critz has never had to cast a vote on the matter, but has long said he's against it.)

Do they vote with Republicans on what's basically a symbolic exercise, or go along with leadership (cue Nancy Pelosi/Imperial March music) on a losing vote in support? Or something in between? (For that matter, might a Republican with health care bona fides such as Tim Murphy buck his party?)

Altmire (and to a certain extent Murphy) told Dan Malloy this summer that he's focused on improving the existing package, rather than dumping the whole thing.

"I certainly didn't support the bill. I'm not going to be in a position to defend the things that were in the bill. But a repeal, because President Obama is going to be president for the next two years, is a political exercise. It's not a legislative strategy," Altmire said back in August."

"So we can spend the next two years playing political games and talking about the bill when it has no chance of being enacted, or we can try to make provisions of the bill that we disagree with – can try to change them, which is a lot more constructive. Make improvements to the delivery system that will actually bring down costs."

Murphy, in early September, mentioned "healthcare amendments" as what should be on the agenda of the GOP Congress. When Malloy asked him directly about a repeal, he said:

"I'm stating what I'm for, and it's for a lot more really solid improvements and reforms in health care, which the health care bill didn't have."

WVa GOP chair Mike Stuart is the latest name in the mix for governor (joining Betty Ireland). From Politico:

It's still unclear whether the election to replace Sen. Joe Manchin will be held in 2011 or 2012, but Stuart said he has not ruled out throwing his hat in the ring once the date is set.

"The key is bold leadership. We need a GOP candidate that is not afraid to lead to build a better future for West Virginia," he said.

Stuart is in the middle of a reorganization of the state party and said he would want to meet with key business leaders before settling on a decision. But he could use the overhaul of the state party as a launching pad for a campaign.

Is it premature to declare bipartisanship dead before the 112th Congress even starts?

Butler's newest congressman (starting Wednesday anyway) Mike Kelly mixed it up Deryk Engelland-style yesterday on "Face The Nation" with Dems Anthony Weiner and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The following blow-by-blow from The Hill is rather long, but it gets the flavor of the throw-down:

Weiner said "Republicans have come in saying that they're going to not raise the debt ceiling and they're going to allow the full faith and credit of the American people to go down the tubes."

"It's their ship to run now," the liberal congressman continued. "This is an adult game now."

Kelly was asked about the looming debt ceiling vote and the prospect of a government shutdown.

"Speaking as an adult who has always paid his own way, I do understand what happens," he said. "And raising the debt ceiling to me is absolutely irresponsible. We've been spending money for so long that we don't have and keep saying, well, it's OK; we'll just raise taxes; we'll find it somewhere.

"Tax revenue comes from people who are working, people who are profitable. It does not come from raising tax rates," Kelly added.

. . . Wasserman Schultz took aim at one of the first items on the House agenda, the Republican rules package that would give incoming Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan greater powers to set budget limits.

"Having one member set the budget ceiling for the entire country is absolutely irresponsible and undemocratic," she said.

"You know, this is what America loves," Kelly responded. "This is what America loves, both sides pointing the finger at the other saying, 'No, it's your fault.' 'No, it's your fault.'"

"It's not about fault," Wasserman Schultz responded. "What are you going to do?"

"When we talk about having adult conversations, then we really have to start acting like adults," Kelly said. "...I don't know how in the world you folks go home and look these people in the eye and say, 'We've done a great job. We've done a great job. Your country's $14 trillion in debt.'"

Weiner fired back at Kelly. "First of all, the 'you folks' stuff -- now you are one of those folks," he said. "And it is your job in the majority party to govern. And the first thing the Republicans did when they took back the House the last time is they drove the government to a shutdown. And I guess, from what I've heard Michele [Bachmann] say and you say, that's what's going to happen again. But all the 'you' stuff -- that has to end today."

Video above from RadioViceOnline. Other clips/judge's cards here from Crooks & Liars and RightNetwork.

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