Cut taxes, yes, but how?

August 30, 2005

It seemed to be the perfect piece of legislation. Property taxes that support Pennsylvania's schools would be cut and the revenue lost would be replaced with money from slot machines.

But there was one hitch. To get the slot-machine money, school boards would have to accept certain restrictions on their future taxing authority.

It was a sensible restriction. Why should local school systems get a new revenue source if they weren't willing to restrict their use of property taxes to fund schools?

But The Associated Press reports that almost 80 percent of the state's 501 school districts have said "no" to the idea. Now it's up to lawmakers and Gov. Ed Rendell to either persuade the boards to go along or rewrite the legislation.


A Republic-controlled legislature might be inclined to let a Democratic governor fight this one on his own, except for one thing - lawmakers need something to distract voters from their pay grab earlier this year.

In July, lawmakers raised legislative pay by much more than the increase in the cost of living. Then, to get around the ban on accepting a raise at mid-term, many put in for the increased pay as "unvouchered expenses."

It was one of those things that was a bad idea no matter which way you look at it, but we can only conclude that lawmakers were betting that nobody would notice.

Well, to put it mildly, citizens noticed. And so, as noted by Martha Raffaele of The Associated Press in her column "Viewing Harrisburg," lawmakers now need a legislative achievement to make their constituents forget the pay issue.

Cutting taxes is always a winner, isn't it? The problem is how to get those pesky school boards to go along.

In our view, the school boards are reluctant to sign on because they fear extraordinary events in the future might leave them without enough cash to run their systems.

Therefore, the legislature and the governor need to redo the legislation to define what events would justify allowing the school boards that have accepted slot revenues to raise taxes.

It might be a surge in enrollment or a school blown down by a tornado. Either way, when an unanticipated disaster happens, schools need a little bit of wiggle room.

The Herald-Mail Articles