Rearranging the local furniture
The state House rejected a bill this week that would eliminate the local school property tax and replace it with a roster of state-level taxes that would more fairly distribute the tax burden for public schools. Then, it passed a bill that committed the state government, thus lawmakers themselves, to ... nothing.
Over-reliance on local property taxation to fund public schools is one of the state's principal problems. Pennsylvania relies on the property tax far more so than most other states. All 500 of the state's school districts imposed property taxes in the 2013-2014 school year that will generate more than $12 billion in revenue, about 80 percent of all of the districts' local revenue. The state budget for public education this year is $9.75 billion.
Dependence on local revenue rather than state revenue guarantees vast disparities in resources among districts. Those in affluent suburbs with high property values tend to have far more resources that poor urban or rural districts.
The House-passed bill will be of scant help to hard-pressed local districts, especially because legislators and the Corbett administration have slashed even the inadequate state contribution to local public education. Local districts this year will receive about $750 million less than in 2010.
A rejected amendment would have eliminated the local property tax in favor of greater state funding that would have diminished the funding disparities among districts.
The bill that passed simply rearranges the local furniture. It would allow local districts to replace all or part of their property taxes with increased local wage and business taxes. That's it. So, poor districts that now tax low-value properties would be able, instead, to impose more tax on the incomes of low-wage workers and on businesses that employ them.
Senators should reject the bill.