Berks commissioners debate federal tax reform plan

2 oppose cutting state, local tax deduction

READING, Pa. - Two of the three Berks County commissioners are taking a stand against any federal tax reform that would eliminate the state and local tax (SALT) deduction.

"Overwhelmingly, the people that take advantage of this [deduction] are middle and working-class folks," said Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach. "The statistics are crystal clear, and I have an enormous ethical problem with government double taxing."

Leinbach and Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt expressed strong opposition to the proposal at their weekly meeting Thursday morning.

"The core issue with SALT is that it is double taxation, and it fundamentally violates the principle that taxes should be based on real income," Leinbach said. "If state and local tax deductions are eliminated, it will impact nationwide of $1.3 trillion cost. That's what people will lose nationwide in that deduction."

Leinbach added that the National Association of Counties (NACo), for which he represents the Northeast region, is predicting that if people see their county property taxes, school property taxes, or other taxes being paid to state and local government are not deductible, they're going to be leaning on those local governments for relief.

"I believe the objective of tax reform by the Trump administration is simplicity and overall rate reduction resulting in convenience for the taxpayer and a lesser governmental burden overall," Commissioner Mark C. Scott countered. "The state and local tax deduction is an itemized deduction, which I believe is an alternative to the standard deduction on your tax form. The standard deduction, I believe, is going to be almost doubled by the tax reform, so that means there will be a much larger deduction available to everyone."

Scott said he also is concerned that if the increased standard deduction is not offset by the elimination of the state and local tax deduction, that currently unsustainable national debt will only be exacerbated.

In other business, the fate of Berks Heim, the county-run nursing facility in Bern Township, continues to be debated. In response to a public comment, Leinbach said the commissioners are nowhere close to making a decision about Berks Heim or the Berks County Jail.

Scott said he sees no need for a town hall meeting to discuss Berks Heim. He said anyone with ideas about ways to save money at Berks Heim are always encouraged to speak with the administration at Berks Heim.

Barnhart said the commissioners have been given many cost-cutting suggestions that would save about $200,000 to $300,000, but those measures won't solve the "ultimate issue of multi-million dollar losses over time."

Leinbach said he wanted to clarify some misinformation he has heard. First, the county did not "suck the Heim dry." He said if one looks at the cumulative accounting, one can see that the county carried debt for the facility for a long time. Second, there is not a county charter that requires the county provide services for indigents.

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