Governor Ridge's Gift to Computer-Owners
Jon M. Peha, Carnegie Mellon University

Editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 14, 2000.

Governor Ridge of Pennsylvania is proposing an $8.5-million gift to those who are already wealthy enough to buy a home computer. The Ridge plan would waive taxes on computer sales for two weeks. This is supposedly an effort to make computers and the Internet more accessible to more Pennsylvanians - to bridge the "digital divide." If this is the goal, the policy will fail.

If a family cannot afford a computer at today's prices, is merely waiving a 6% tax likely to make the computer affordable? Computer prices have been falling steadily for decades. If a 6% price cut is really enough to bring computers to most homes, then the market will solve the problem in a few months - long before the Governor's "tax holiday" in 2001.

The Governor deserves credit for acknowledging a critical problem that too many elected officials ignore. The Internet may soon be the primary tool for job-seekers to learn of employment opportunities, for consumers to purchase products at competitive prices, and for voters to influence their elected officials. All Americans should enjoy these benefits, not just those with money.

It is not too late for the Governor to propose something effective in his upcoming budget. There will always be people who cannot afford home computers. Rather than subsidizing all consumer computer purchases, the Governor should focus on making the Internet accessible in institutions that serve the public, like libraries and community centers. And even if everyone could access the Internet, many wouldn't know how to use it. Our public schools, community colleges, and community centers should provide appropriate training to citizens of all ages.

I applaud the Governor for putting aside funds to address this vital issue. I hope he'll spend the money on education and public access to the Internet, rather than a tax break that will do more for the wealthy than the poor.

Professor Jon M. Peha
Jointly in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the
Department of Engineering and Public Policy.

Carnegie Mellon University
Phone: (412) 268-7126
Address: Carnegie Mellon University, Dept. of ECE, Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890