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Pennsy school debate: Are slots the solution?

October 15, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

As the November election nears, Pennsylvania's AARP chapter is putting gubernatorial candidates on notice that it's paying close attention to the debate over the way the state funds schools. The input is welcome because it spotlights an issue that concerns taxpayers of all ages.

Both candidates - Republican Mike Fisher and Democrat Ed Rendell - agree that the state now relies too heavily on property taxes for local school funding. But that's about the only thing they agree on.

The Associated Press reported that in answer to AARP's questions, Fisher said he wouldn't rule out any revenue-raising option, including raising sales or income taxes.

Rendell told AARP that he wanted to increase the state's share of school funding to 50 percent. He said he would do so by cutting the state budget and legalizing slot machines at the state's horse tracks, which he estimated would yield $460 million annually.

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Though AARP does not endorse candidates, Roy Landis, AARP's legislative representative, said his group's members seem to favor an increase in the income tax as opposed to a sales tax hike, which would hurt those on fixed incomes.

The final solution is likely to be a combination of cuts and increases, because although an income tax hike to offset the property-tax cut seems simpler, there are some other issues to consider.

One is its effect on economic development and young workers. While seniors on fixed incomes wouldn't be hurt much by an income-tax hike, executives of prospective companies might find it a reason to look at other states. Hiking income taxes while cutting property taxes would also affect young workers and their eventual ability to buy property.

The gambling issue is likely to be the hardest fought, since Pennsylvania, like Maryland, has spent itself into a position where it will have to either legalize slots or raise taxes significantly to balance next year's budget. The average citizen needs to pay as much attention to this debate as AARP has done so far.

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