Gary Lewis seems to think the Scranton commuter tax is illegal. It definitely isn’t. The state specifically allows distressed municipalities to charge a commuter tax as long as the revenue goes to pensions. You don’t have to like it, but let’s keep the facts straight.
As for “unfair”, the true unfairness lies with PA’s balkanized tax bases, which bleed revenue from older core cities over time. I read my Gerry Cross so I know that every PA municipality follows the same pattern. I like to call it the 5 Stages of Municipal Death:
1. Low taxes with Greenfield Growth
2. Gradually rising tax rates and increasing demand for services.
3. Plateau of tax base with reductions in non-core services.
4. Insufficient taxes or tax base with reductions in core services.
5. Loss of tax base and distress
Every municipality in Pennsylvania is in one of these stages. Scranton is between 4 and 5. Lackawanna County suburbs aren’t as far along yet, but they will be. As the tax dollars flow from the core out to the periphery, the obvious result is distress in the core. It’s just stupid to moralize about this. Gary’s right about many of the boneheaded fiscal choices Scranton’s made, but it’s important to understand that dysfunctional politics and governance is a symptom of this underlying death march, not a cause. The only way to stop the bleeding is regionalizing the tax base at the County level.