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Updated 5 hours ago
Lawmakers in Harrisburg again will consider eliminating school property taxes by raising the state's personal income tax rate, raising its sales and use tax and expanding the latter's reach. It's a perennial proposal that has yet to succeed — and shouldn't, because it ignores the root problem: ever-increasing school budgets.
The proposal aims to replace the $14 billion that the state's Independent Fiscal Office estimates school property taxes yield annually. But it would change neither how much schools spend nor how much taxpayers pay — just which of their pockets are plundered — and it wouldn't guard those pockets against ever-deeper plundering.
State Act 1 of 2006 surely hasn't helped. It supposedly limits annual school tax hikes to the rate of inflation and requires taxpayer referendums for greater increases. But Act 1 provides wide-ranging exemptions to those rules, and the state approves so many exemption requests that almost one-third of Pennsylvania school districts were able to raise taxes for 2014-15 by more than the inflation rate.
What's needed isn't a change in school funding sources, but an effective way to ensure that public schools live within taxpayers' means. The best way to do that, as we've said previously, would be to require that all school levies routinely — and without exception — be put to public votes. Simply shifting the burden from one tax to another — for the convenience of some folks but at the expense of many others — resolves nothing.
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