Like a great many Philadelphians, Michael J. Masch never paid much attention to politics in the state capital. The former city budget director under Mayor Ed Rendell said that the intrigue in Philadelphia and in Washington, D.C., always took up his political attention.
But since 2003, Masch has had plenty of reason to pay attention to Harrisburg; for the past four years, he has served as Rendell's budget secretary. And he told attendees at a recent Center City meeting of the Jewish Business Network that they should turn attention there as well, since there's a very good chance that Rendell's ambitious second-term agenda could directly affect them.
"The governor's goal is to address those issues that have not been addressed in a serious way that are eroding our security and well-being," suggested Masch, a longtime member of Germantown Jewish Centre.
In particular, he touted "Prescription for Pennsylvania" -- a program introduced into the budget that Rendell unveiled last month that would use a combination of state and federal funding to provide health insurance for the more than 700,000 Pennsylvanians who currently go without coverage.
He also said that the proposed budget provides an incentive for private business to offer coverage, and calls for a 3 percent payroll tax on companies with more than 50 employees that do not offer health insurance.
But if politics is the art of the possible, then Masch explained that Rendell is attempting something many assumed was both mathematically and politically impossible -- namely, increasing taxes in order to save people some money.
How would that work?
The budget outlines an increase in the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, along with a new utility surcharge meant to curtail excess consumption of energy. All told, these changes would cost the average Pennsylvania household about $180 a year.
Masch added that the sales-tax reduction would fund property-tax relief and, for Philadelphians, wage-tax relief as well. That could mean about $186 a year that residents wouldn't have to fork over to the government, he said.
And he expects that if the energy policy is passed, it would dissuade amounts of usage and save Pennsylvanians as much as $73 a year.
Of course, while all this good news probably brings cheers and nods, remember: The budget is still a long way from being finalized.