PSBA should not hold outfor perfect tax-cut proposal

April 27, 2004

It seemed like such a simple idea: To keep aging Pennsylvania homeowners from being taxed out of their homes, the state would reduce property taxes, increase income taxes and legalize slot machines.

Now that compromises have been worked out within the legislature, a new hurdle has arisen, in the form of opposition from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

PSBA opposes one part of the legislation that would limit local boards' ability to raise property taxes if they accept new subsidies from the state.

Under the proposal, school boards could accept or reject the plan. If they didn't, local voters could make a yes-or-no decision for them in a referendum.


Once that referendum was approved, local voters would then have an up-or-down vote on any unusually large property tax increases.

PSBA's concern is that because of the need to work in advance to budget for the next fiscal year, local boards would have to set their tax rates before they knew how much state school aid they could expect.

The Associated Press reports that the state-aid figure is normally set by June 30, but was delayed until December last year because of bickering over the tax legislation.

We agree that the current legislation is a cobbled-together piece of work that isn't finished yet, since Gov. Ed Rendell is offering to add a few loopholes that would allow school boards to raise taxes for unusual circumstances such as the need to cover new unfunded federal mandates.

Will every part of this bill work well? No. Will adjustments need to be made based on experience? Of course.

But lowering property taxes shouldn't be held up indefinitely in a quest for a perfect piece of legislation. If the current bill leaves local boards strapped for cash, we're confident the legislature will amend the legislation to help them out.

We urge PSBA to have faith in lawmakers, because if elected officials fail to act when the need is proven, we pledge to point out that failure to all citizens who care about education.

A yard sale for the city?

Michaela Boyle, a student at Hagerstown's Bester Academy, was writing about a mythical town when she penned a winning essay in a contest run by the Maryland Municipal League. But some of the 11-year-old's suggestions make sense in the real-life world.

Boyle, a fourth-grader at Bester, wrote an essay about a make-believe city with a three-person police force, twice-a-week trash collection and a variety of other services, including snow and leaf removal and sidewalk and street maintenance.

She correctly understood the trade-off between taxes and services: When revenues fall, services must be cut or taxes will go up.

Her prescriptions include: Cutting leaf removal and raising prices at a city-supported outdoor festival.

And, she said, there should be a city-wide yard sale.

This last prescription has the most promise. Citizens could be given a target - $100,000, for example - that would have to be raised to keep taxes from going up.

To do that, they could purchase table spots at the Hagers-town Fairgrounds and bring their yard-sale items and hawk them there.

The proceeds could either be donated to the tax fund, or kept. But those who didn't sell their stuff would have three options - drastically reducing prices at the end of the day, hauling the stuff back home, or paying the city government a fee to take it to the dump.

As opposed to the city's current bulk pick-up, residents would at least have a chance to make a few dollars for their trouble and keep their taxes down at the same time.

For those shoppers who get hungry, vendors would be on hand to provide food and drink and perhaps other types of merchandise, since a yard sale that size would be guaranteed to draw thousands of people.

Would it work? We believe so, because many residents of this area are hooked on yard sales. Sellers could meet a great number of would-be buyers and avoid having people tramping through their yards all day long.

Would there be some costs? Probably, since some city employees would have to be on hand and liability insurance might be needed. But for those who want to cut taxes and get rid of unwanted clutter, this could be a perfect event.

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