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Pa. property tax aid stagnant despite gaming

August 08, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH
  • Pa. state Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin/Adams/York
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CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- If Pennsylvania collected more in taxes from commercial casino gambling than any other state, why hasn't the correlating property tax relief materialized?

Pennsylvania's tax revenue from commercial casinos approached $1.1 billion in the fiscal year that ended June 30, the Associated Press recently reported.

When casino gambling in Pennsylvania was approved in 2004, proponents said taxes on 61,000 slot machines at 14 venues would translate into property tax relief. Today, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board says nine facilities are open with an average of 24,903 slot machines operating daily.

Pennsylvania collected more in taxes than even gambling heavyweight Nevada, mostly due to a 55 percent tax rate on slot machine gambling, the Associated Press stated based on reporting by The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa.

And the gaming control board said July set a record with $116 million in slot machine tax revenue.

As casino gambling has expanded, the tax discounts passed onto property owners each year have stayed fairly stagnant. The average amount now is $190, according to state Rep. Todd Rock, R-Franklin.

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Rock said once the additional five slot facilities become operational, the amount funneled into the Property Tax Relief Fund should increase. That could translate into greater discounts.

"All revenue from (the newly added) table games goes into the (legislature's) General Fund," Rock said. "This money was already accounted for when the budget was passed."

State Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland, said other things are being funded before gaming tax revenue is put in the Property Tax Relief Fund. There was $444.7 million in that fund as of July 29.

The Morning Call reported gaming tax revenue supports the horse racing industry, civic projects like the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia and grants for volunteer fire companies.

"It was never about property tax relief," said Kauffman, who campaigned against the system's design. "It'd be obviously more significant (relief) if that money was going in the property tax fund."

State Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin/Adams/York, said the impact of the limited amount of property tax relief "has been stripped away by the new tax increases approved by local school boards."

"It is clear that we need to find a new way to fund public education," Alloway said.

Alloway said he's cosponsored legislation that would allow voters to eliminate the property tax via referendum and choose a new way to fund public schools from current legislative proposals.

"I believe this approach could help create a more fair and reasonable funding mechanism to educate our young people," he said.

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