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Onorato accuses Pa. rival of tax pledge flip-flop

By Peter Jackson
Associated Press Writer / August 25, 2010

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HARRISBURG, Pa.—Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato on Wednesday accused Republican nominee Tom Corbett of flip-flopping on his pledge not to increase state taxes.

Attacking Corbett on taxes for a second day in a row, Onorato cited a March 8 interview with KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh in which Corbett said the no-new-taxes pledge he signed also bars increases in fees and other levies. Since at least mid-July, however, Corbett has said the pledge excludes fees and other levies that are not specifically labeled taxes.

"He's been all over the state talking about this no-tax pledge," said Onorato, Allegheny County's elected executive, calling the conflicting statements "just the latest example of Tom flip-flopping every time the pressure builds."

In a conference call with reporters, Onorato vowed that he would not increase the state income or sales taxes - the two largest sources of state revenue - despite looming costs that are expected to exceed tax collections by billions of dollars.

"I don't sign pledges as political gimmicks," Onorato replied when asked whether his promise was the equivalent of the written pledge Corbett signed. "But I'm telling you verbally, yeah, you're hearing me say that - I'm not raising income tax, I'm not raising the sales tax."

Corbett, the state attorney general, signed the taxpayer protection pledge advocated by the Washington-based Americans for Tax Reform in early February.

Campaign spokesman Kevin Harley noted that the pledge does not mention fees, only taxes. Harley said he could not explain why Corbett said in March that it barred fee increases.

Onorato said he hopes to balance the financial pressures on state government largely through savings in other areas of the $28 billion budget.

He reiterated that he supports a new tax on natural gas drilling on the Marcellus Shale formation but advocates earmarking much of the revenue for environmental protection, preservation of open space and reimbursements to maintain road, sewer and water systems in affected municipalities.

Onorato also has said he favors extending the state tobacco tax to cigars and smokeless tobacco.

Harley called Onorato a "career politician" and said "what he's done his entire career is raise taxes."

Corbett played down the pledge in his campaign against conservative state Rep. Sam Rohrer, whom he defeated in the May primary. In a speech accepting the Republican State Committee's endorsement a few days after he signed the pledge, Corbett didn't even mention it. Aides said he did not want it to distract from his goal of cutting taxes.

In the TV interview, Corbett assured interviewer Jon Delano that the pledge applies to fees as well as taxes.

"It's a very broad goal," he said, "and the people of Pennsylvania, they want that."