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Educating Pennsylvanians

August 01, 2003

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell's office this week announced he would tour the state to drum up support for his proposals for the state's schools. We hope the governor will concentrate more on educating voters rather than on bashing his opponents.

Rendell, a Democratic governor facing a legislature dominated by Republicans, responded to the complaint by homeowning senior citizens on fixed incomes who said that the state's school financing was too heavily dependent on property taxes.

To fix that, Rendell proposed lowering the property tax rate while raising income taxes to compensate. Lawmakers, who tied themselves into knots prior to the last election to avoid anything resembling a tax increase, liked the idea of dropping property taxes. It's the other end of the bargain that scares the heck out of them.

Early in the current session, Rendell sent lawmakers a bare-bones budget that contained none of his new educational initiatives. His intent was to let lawmakers look at the hard alternatives if they didn't change the way the state finances education, then present a budget with his proposals included.

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Instead of considering both proposals, they passed the bare-bones version, closing a $2 billion hole in the state's budget, but not addressing anything on education, on property taxes.

Clearly something needs to be done. The state's share of local school funding has dropped from 50 percent in the early 1970s to just 35 percent in 2001.

And as costs increased, who made up the difference? Property owners, that's who. Local property taxes increased by an average of 55 percent in the last 10 years. That's a lot, if you're a retired homeowner who doesn't have a large pension.

Rendell needs to go to the people because a new poll commissioned by Good Schools Pennsylvania says on 54 percent of the state's citizens support the income-for-property tax change. To move this debate forward, the governor has to explain why that change is needed, how it would work and what positive effects it would have on the state's schoolchildren.

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