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Fund PA Schools without Property Taxes? The Idea Has Its Critics

PHOTO: Reliable school funding would be in jeopardy if it's based on what the state takes in in sales and income taxes, say critics of the ideas outlined in Senate Bill 76. Photo credit: mokra/freeimages.com.
PHOTO: Reliable school funding would be in jeopardy if it's based on what the state takes in in sales and income taxes, say critics of the ideas outlined in Senate Bill 76. Photo credit: mokra/freeimages.com.
May 14, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A bill making its way through the Pennsylvania Senate would base school funding dollars not on property taxes but on state sales and income taxes. Opponents say it doesn't add up.

Senate Bill 76 is aimed at eliminating property taxes. In the process, however, some are concerned it would place school funding in Pennsylvania on shaky ground.

"So, at a time when maybe the economy isn't doing as well, the state isn't going to have as much money to then give to the school districts," said John Neurohr, a spokesman for the group Keystone Progress. "It's really going to place the disproportionate burden for filling those gaps on the school districts - and that's just not fair."

The proposal would raise the state personal income tax by more than 1.25 percent and the state sales tax by 1 percent, but not for items on the WIC food list. Backers of the bill call it a critical component to long-overdue property tax reform in the state, but Neurohr said it would have a disproportionate effect on low- and middle-income taxpayers.

Neurohr said the measure also threatens to put local control of school districts in jeopardy.

"We're not allowing the elected school boards in our districts across the state, if SB 76 becomes law, to do what they need to do to make sure that they are fully funding schools," he said.

A vote on SB 76 is expected in the Senate soon. The bill's text is online at legis.state.pa.us.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA