Letters to the editor, 12/27/05

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Property-tax reform? Call it the 'Job Reduction' act

The state House is proposing to trim property taxes while expanding the sales tax to include professional services and consumer items not currently taxes (i.e. toiletries) and raising personal income taxes. The Senate version for property-tax reform calls for making up the lost revenues with a higher earned income tax rate. Both of these property-tax reform proposals should be renamed "Pennsylvania Jobs Reduction" proposals ("Relief in Sight? Lawmakers Struggling for Consensus on Reducing Property Taxes," Dec. 20).

Unlike steel companies that could not relocate quickly, today's service industries can move quickly and with little cost. Accounting firms, law firms, medical practices and consulting firms can all easily move out of state to eliminate their clients having to pay higher sales taxes. If these businesses don't move, out-of-state firms will take away their business.

Businesses that outsource a lot of their functions will also leave the state to avoid paying sales tax on services. These businesses pay high wages. Shifting the burden from retired homeowners to workers provides additional incentive for these business owners to leave the state.

Has anyone thought of the government just spending less?

JIM KILMER
Whitehall


Trouble in paradise

I feel compelled to respond to Eric Miller's Dec. 20 letter, "Opportunity Calling," which noted the trend of people leaving high-cost-of-living cities like Boston and San Francisco for areas such as Las Vegas and Charlotte, and argued that Pittsburgh must aggressively lure those people here.

My wife and I left San Francisco and moved here last year after 28 years to be nearer to family. We agree with Mr. Miller that there are some great attributes to Pittsburgh. There are a lot of similarities to San Francisco.

There is one huge difference, Mr. Miller, which is why I would not have mistakenly chosen Allegheny County: taxes!

We made a huge mistake and bought in Upper St. Clair last December. The builder said we wouldn't be reassessed for two years and, when we eventually were reassessed, our taxes would be in line with the rest of the other new homes on our cul-de-sac. Wrong! Upper St. Clair disagreed and took us to court. We now have taxes assessed twice as high as anyone else on the street. Our tax bill is four times higher than a similarly priced house in San Francisco.

Call me stupid -- I was. I had no idea I'd be paying over $30,000 in property taxes. In San Francisco, I'd be paying $9,000 for a house of the same value.

After all those years of living in California, we had a fair amount of equity to put down on our home. However, unless something is done about property tax reform, we've lost our equity -- nobody will give us what we paid for this house unless they are as dumb as this former Californian was.

JOHN STEINER
Upper St. Clair


Tolls for thee

It is interesting to note that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission now appears to be ready to react to serious congestion at the most western collection facility ("One-Way Tolling to Begin at Gateway," Dec. 19). Their proposal to eliminate toll collections in one direction and double them in the other is a classic. Now they will justify the revamp of the facility at significant cost.

Why not have the eastern-most toll collection facility of the Ohio Turnpike collect the Pennsylvania toll in both directions? That would eliminate all impediments to traffic (which would save millions in time and fuel) rather than having an additional stop less than three miles ahead. There would be no need to revamp the existing facility, which would provide additional millions in cost avoidance and elimination of surplus toll staffing.

If we don't trust Ohio's count, we could install automated counters and the money collected could easily be electronically transferred daily.

MICHAEL L. LITTLE
McCandless


Gifted center, yes

The superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools has suggested closing the Pittsburgh Gifted Center and having the special programs take place in each school. This would be an incredible injustice to the gifted students of this city. (Any student in the city may apply to the gifted center, including those, such as me, in private schools; I am 12 and attend St. Bede School in Point Breeze.)

At the gifted center, we have an opportunity to challenge our minds and extend our knowledge and perspective. In regular school, we simply learn the basics of DNA; at the gifted center we go into far greater depth and create our own models. In our home schools, there are few chances to discuss important issues; in public speaking and debate we test ourselves and offer perspectives on the world. In parochial school, we only have one art class a week; in public sculpture, we not only sculpt but critique and discuss our own work.

The teachers are amazing. You know they have a wealth of knowledge far beyond the textbook. Practically the only day I learn something new is the day I attend the Pittsburgh Gifted Center.

By being around other kids who are very bright and creative, I am more willing to express my own talents. It is also a great social opportunity for students to meet those from other parts of the city and with different backgrounds.

We understand the financial situation of the school system and that reforms might be needed. However, by closing the gifted center, the school district would not only be reducing a program, but erasing an opportunity for gifted students to grow.

DAVID JIMENEZ
Squirrel Hill


Under assault

After reading David Brooks' Dec. 23 column, "Your Job: Protect the Nation," I got mad. I am so damn tired of this administration and its apologists waiving the tired rag of terrorism in our faces to distract from yet another theft of our most precious possessions: liberty and the rule of law.

Generations of Americans have fought hard for our freedoms, and the only way we can lose them is if we give them away because we are afraid.

Let me see, over the last four years the number of major terrorist attacks in the United States: 0. The number of attacks on our freedoms by this administration: too many to count.

By this metric, as Donald Rumsfeld likes to say, the administration is more of a threat to our American way of life than any terrorist organization ... real or imagined.

MARK KNOBIL
Polish Hill


Happy Holidays, everyone

Standing at the stove browning the pot roast for our traditional Hanukkah dinner for just over 40 friends and family, I couldn't help but think about this year's gift: the Happy Holiday vs. Merry Christmas debate.

The recipe I am following is derived from my mother-in-law who was born Jewish, raised Christian Scientist, married Jewish and cooked in New York City and Miami Beach. Add to that my Catholic mom's sauerbraten recipe that her mother brought from Germany before the war, and a few of my Irish and French touches, and you have the Three Mom's Pot Roast. That's the new name my daughter gave it for the cookbook she did with her kindergarten class this season. You see, I have a "blended family."

The hatred fueling this debate that spills out of talk radio is toxic. How can the ancient celebration of winter -- which served so many religions who adapted it to their beliefs -- be such a source of divisiveness? How could I reject one of my children because of the way they celebrate Dec. 25 this year?

My family wishes your family Happy Holiday as we have for many years. Our wish reflects the union in love that our family represents -- our love for all whom we embrace and the power of this message.

MARY ALICE GORMAN
Shadyside


The research could help my son, but we reject cloned human embryonic stem-cell lines

I would strongly urge the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine to re-evaluate its involvement in research to successfully produce cloned human embryonic stem-cell lines.

My urging is not based on the recent scandal reported by the Post-Gazette ("Stem-Cell Work Faked, Korean Scientist Claims," Dec. 16). In my opinion, whether research findings are real or fake is not the central issue.

As the parent of an 11-year-old boy who has been living with type 1 diabetes since the age of 4, I have an understandable stake in the promise of a cure for type 1 diabetes, as does my son. Let me be clear: A cure is imperative for my son's health and longevity, but I am not willing to sacrifice everything I believe in with regards to the sanctity of human life for my son's cure.

I vehemently oppose cloning human embryos, even if an added wait for a cure means my son might suffer the devastating complications of this serious disease. You are not conducting this research for my son -- we do not want it.

Yet no researcher has asked me. And I am an active participant in the various research studies under way at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh (part of UPMC) to find a cure for diabetes. I am accessible. I complete surveys on a variety of subjects for Children's Hospital's Diabetes Clinic.

Are there other stakeholders in this area of medical research who feel as I do? Now is the time to voice your opinion on this controversy if you do. Speak now or, perhaps, forever hold your peace.

AGGIE LOTZ
Aspinwall



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