The following letter was published in Main Line Suburban Life on Wednesday, November 16.
The Great Earned Income Tax Hoax: Politics As Usual, Or Just Plain Wrong?
Tredyffrin’s 2011 elections are over, and people I usually consider fair-minded are tarring both parties equally for nastiness. I totally disagree. As the chairperson of the Tredyffrin Democratic Party, I may be accused of “sour grapes,” but I readily concede the Republicans won all but two of the local races.
Pennsylvania has no law against deceptive practices in elections. It makes our elections like baseball games where there is no instant-replay rule. Remember the June 2010 game when a Detroit Tigers pitcher didn’t get his perfect game after an umpire wrongly called a Cleveland Indians runner safe at first? After the umpire saw the replay, he begged the baseball commissioner to reverse the call. But there was no reversal because there was no rule that the truth, as revealed in the replay, took precedence. It only takes one run or one vote to decide a game or an election, so I get that Democratic candidates lost under the prevailing rules.
What I can’t let pass is the cynical strategy executed by the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee (TTRC) and Tredyffrin Republican chairperson, Mike Broadhurst, of creating an entirely imaginary issue, knowing it untrue, but repeating it relentlessly. They have poisoned the well, going beyond the limits of decency in conjuring the Earned Income Tax (EIT) hoax.
If you were one of the people on Election Day asking where on the ballot you could vote against the Income Tax, you were the desired outcome of the TTRC’s dishonesty. There was no tax issue on the ballot in 2011. But produce a phony tax scare and voter turnout can be moved from 28 percent in 2009 to 37 percent in 2011.
Why does a string of such cynical untruths in a campaign matter? Cynicism breeds disengagement. If there was ever a time when this township needs to come together, that time is now. We need to work as a team to get Harrisburg to do the right thing for our children. The looming pension costs were placed on school districts by the Pennsylvania legislature, and that is where districts need to head for relief, which is what our Democratic candidates clearly stated. The Republican candidates’ solutions consisted of platitudes like “build on T/E School District’s outstanding reputation,” as if resting on our laurels will solve our fiscal crisis.
The Democratic candidates adamantly opposed any new taxes or spending and stated that repeatedly – in their literature and personal canvassing and at the League of Women Voters School Board debate on Oct. 25, where each Democratic candidate expressed clear opposition to the EIT. (Two of the four Republican candidates for School Board didn’t bother to show up and participate.) Current Democratic members of the School Board, Karen Cruickshank and Kevin Buraks, voted AGAINST moving the EIT to a referendum in a School Board vote.
Starting in October, Mr. Broadhurst and his TTRC team began placing yard signs saying, “No Earned Income Tax: Vote Republican.” An onslaught of October mailings contained an escalating series of specific and false statements:
- “Tredyffrin’s Democrat School Board team wants to implement an income tax… on top of the property taxes you already pay… They believe that more money is the answer, instead of spending what we have wisely.”
- “Vote “NO” to the Democrats’ Double-Tax! The Democrat School Board Team wants to impose a new Earned Income Tax on top of the property taxes you already pay.”
In the weekend before Election Day, the final straw was a Republican literature insert that said, “The Democrat School Board Team has begun the process of implementing a new income tax on top of the property taxes you already pay. The need it to pay for massive new spending…”
Presumably “School Board Team” refers to the Democratic candidates as if they are so powerful to have already begun “implementing” while not even in office. The actual School Board is composed of six Republicans and only three Democrats.
If Mr. Broadhurst and his partisans set aside their disdain for fact and looked at the report of the citizen-volunteer tax study group, they won’t find an ounce of opportunity for new spending. What the School District faces is a deluge of unsustainable pension obligations. Further, after over $10 million in cuts to our schools, we cannot get out of our crisis by spending what we have more wisely.
The Democratic candidates had solid credentials and useful experience. They signed up to run a campaign of issues, to provide creative solutions and to work as consensus-builders, not to joust against a cynical, knowingly false representation of reality. They had serious ideas for solving the problems facing the School District, without increasing taxes or spending. That didn’t matter one bit.
The Republican strategy worked for short-term gain, but at a cost to the fabric of the community. If not reversed by honorable Republicans, it will be the wave of elections to come. Some thoughtful Republicans expressed to the Democratic candidates that they were “outraged, horrified or appalled” at the literature pieces being sent out by the Tredyffrin Republican Committee. Clearly the TTRC has figured out that there is no FactCheck.org covering township elections and have chosen to exploit the absence of policing on the political highway. Moderate Republicans, who claim to want politics to “take the high road,” it is up to you to control your leaders.
Dariel Jamieson lives in Chesterbrook.