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Would-be governor needs to offer plans

April 04, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Fisher probably won't find many Pennsylvanians who disagree with his view that funding the state's education system depends too much on property taxes. But there'll be plenty of disagreement on what should replace it.

On Tuesday, Fisher said his first step as governor would be to call a special session and solve the problem. How he didn't say, but he did criticize previous governors for talking about the problem, but not finding a solution to it.

One option on the table includes a plan by state Sen. James J. Rhoades, who would roll back property taxes by an average of 68.7 percent which increasing the income tax from 2.8 percent to 4.8 percent.

Another includes raising the state's sales tax, or giving more options to local jurisdictions to fund schools in ways that local voters would decide.

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We suggest that whatever is done should be uniform across the state. When a similar local-option plan was discussed several years ago, we expressed concern that in a jurisdiction with many retirees on fixed incomes, revenues might not be enough to fund schools.

And we worried then that with local options, prospective new industries might avoid areas which had chosen to make income taxes higher than property levies. Under such a system, new firms could locate facilities in areas with low property taxes, then have executives in areas with low income taxes.

The sales tax proposal is also worrisome because it hits low-income people just as hard as those who earn more. Some exemption or rebate for the needy might make this more palatable, though retailers in border areas will object to any hike.

Those are the reasons that previous governors haven't solved this problem. If Fisher hopes to have any credibility on this issue, he needs to offer a plan of his own. Expressing concern about a problem is rarely enough to solve it.

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