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Pennsy tax cut backed,but plan lacks key item

September 13, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

A committee of Pennsylvania lawmakers charged with studying the state's system for funding education this week recommended that the state pay at least 50 percent of local school costs, allowing districts to not lean so heavily on property taxes as a revenue source.

How will the state calculate each district's share of new revenues? And more important, where will the state find the new money this change would require? These hard questions will be put off until after the November elections.

It was probably too much to expect lawmakers to try to sell voters on major changes in the tax system six weeks before the general election. Instead, what they've done is to come out in favor of lowering the property levy, while ducking the issue of where that lost revenue will be made up.

The Select Committee on Public Education Funding did recommend that a new panel be named to calculate how much state money each of Pennsylvania's 501 school districts would get.

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Why would such a group be needed? Because unless someone outside the district decided what's an adequate amount to meet students' needs, then the districts - confident that the state would always kick in 50 percent - would have little incentive to restrain budget growth.

The committee also recommended that in exchange for more state help, local districts be mandated to reduce property taxes by a certain amount. How much is sure to be negotiated in the special session on this matter that both parties candidates for governor have promised to call after the election.

The key question is where the state will get the cash it needs. This year lawmakers pulled out all the stops to avoid a tax increase, including taking half the state's Rainy Day Fund, so there's little left in the way of reserves. The choice is between raising the sales tax or the personal income tax. We await the debate with great interest.

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