Campaign officials for GOP Senate candidates John Brunner and Sarah Steelman exchanged verbal fisticuffs Wednesday, each accusing the other of misleading the public on a vote Steelman cast while a member of the state legislature.
In a recent debate Steelman said she had not voted for any tax increases in the legislature. Her campaign does not dispute a 2002 vote in favor of making a 6-cent state gasoline tax permanent. At the time, the 10-year old levy was set to expire in 2008.
Brunner supporter John Hancock said that means Steelman voted to raise taxes.
"Are you paying higher taxes today because of that vote than you would have paid if that vote had never happened?" Hancock said. "The answer is yes."
Steelman spokesman Patrick Tuohey sharply disagreed with the characterization of the vote as a tax hike.
"That is on the face of it incorrect," he said. "Sarah did not vote to raise taxes. It's that clear."
Tuohey said Steelman opposed a 2002 statewide referendum on an additional gas and sales tax increase that voters ultimately rejected.
Brunner, he said, failed to cast a ballot in that election.
Deciding whether extension of an expiring tax or failure to renew an expiring tax cut is a tax increase or not almost always depends on who's doing the scoring.
The national payroll tax, for example, was cut in 2011 and 2012. If that tax cut isn't renewed at the end of the year, the payroll tax will return to its 2010 levels.
So failing to extend the 2012 payroll tax rate will be seen by many as a tax increase. If that's true, though, the reverse must also be true: Extending the 2012 payroll tax rate would be a tax cut.
That's true compared to 2010 but not to 2012. Similarly, failure to extend the payroll tax cut would be an increase relative to 2012, but not to 2010.
So voters pretty much have to decide how to score the issue for themselves.