Since seniors are the largest group in this category, Rendell visited the Berks County Senior Center at 40 North 9th Street in Reading on Feb, 21 to gain support for a tax reduction plan. "After all these years, we could be one day away from effective property tax reform."
"Actually the visit was a surprise to me. I came for the music, but I am glad the Governor paid us a visit," said senior regular Eddie M. Kazin.
The main obstacle being the State House and the Senate had passed different relief bills before the recess. "Now is the time to work out a compromise plan that we can all live with. We're knocking on the door," Rendell admitted.
The House reconvenes on March 6 and the Senate on the 14, he said, and will sign the legislation as soon as it is completed.
The Governor's message to the 50 or more seniors was seemingly directed at the legislature to launch a bipartisan effort to hammer out an accord by mid-March.
When coupled with $1 billion of slot machine revenue by 2007, Rendell added, about 17,400 senior homeowners (nearly three times the present number) may receive between $700 to $900.
"As many as 2,400 Berks seniors (state figures ballooning to nearly 200,000) could escape paying any property tax if the House cap income figure per household of $30,000 is adopted," Rendell said, which brought a chorus of "wows" from the crowd.
Reportedly, some critics of the "compromise reform" and proponents of "Caucus Plan" feel Rendell is trying to take sole credit for bringing about a solution. Stalled in the state house since last year, this plan calls for eliminating school property tax in lieu of increasing the state sales tax to include food, clothing and most services.
Additionally, critics noted that an "ineffective" special session was called by Rendell last September to hammer out tax relief after "his Act 72" failed to bring about a solution, because the vast majority of school districts rejected its guidelines.
Even though most of the state, county, and city officials in attendance were Democrats, the buzzing crowd seemed to favor a bipartisan plan proposed by the Governor. One senior was heard to say," We want you people in Harrisburg to get together and give us some relief. Right now!"d
Fellow Democrat State Senator Michael A. O'Pake commended Rendell for his efforts. "You can't blame this guy. He doesn't control the Legislature. The Republicans control the Legislature and sometimes elephants can be stubborn," he said, poking a little fun at strict partisan politics.
"This is more than just Democrats and Republicans," Rendell said, "I know we can get this done. At least it is a good beginning with even more tax relief coming later."
Berks County Commissioners Thomas W. Gajewski and Chairperson Judith L. Schwenk also indicated that both parties appear to be more willing to create a compromise tax bill, particularly in light of last year's salary raise debacle.
"The climate for compromise is set. The pressure is on and opposition to tax relief can't hold up on partisan lines any longer," O'Pake said after Rendell's 30 minute talk.