Everyone is talking tax reform, even at a gambling industry conference. Trouble is, tax reform will not be accomplished until state lawmakers do more than talk and truly work to change the way public schools are funded in
Gov. Ed Rendell last week spoke at the Pennsylvania Gaming Congress after several weeks of hearings in the Legislature on his budget proposal.
His plans include a 1 percentage point increase in the sales tax to fill a budget hole and shift some public school funding off local property taxes.
For more than two years, Rendell and some legislators have pushed the idea of raising the statewide sales tax to help cut school property taxes. Critics of the governorís plan point out that only one in four dollars raised by the higher sales tax would go to property tax relief. The rest would fund more state spending. This is an element of the plan that needs to be addressed.
Getting lawmakers to agree to raise one tax to lower another has been difficult, Rendell said, because they fear their election opponents will paint the tax shift as a tax increase.
Rendell also said money is beginning to trickle into a state fund set up to use gambling revenue to help shoulder the costs of public schools and lower local property taxes.
For now, about $155 million in license fees and slots revenue can go toward property tax cuts, although the fund must reach $500 million before it can be distributed. Homeowners pay about $6 billion in school property taxes annually.
Rendell is not the only Democratic leader who has said recently that they would consider a percent hike in the sales tax if it goes directly to replace local property taxes as the primary means of funding schools.
At a legislative affairs conference in January, state House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese said he would be willing to support a 1 percent increase in the sales tax to fund schools and he is "almost ready" to entertain proposals to make the tax more broad-based.
During last yearís failed attempts at tax reform, the Commonwealth Caucus plan proposed replacing local school property taxes with a broad-based but reduced state sales tax. While some opponents of the plan say it would not generate enough revenue, others -- particularly residents of
Rendell told the gambling convention last week that there may not be enough votes in the state Senate to support the tax shift, and DeWeese told the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association legislative affairs conference that he does not sense an enthusiasm in the Senate for a sales tax increase.
Itís time to get the attention of state senators and all other legislators who fail to grasp the importance of this issue.
Write to every state senator and to your state representative and tell them that there is no greater issue to voters in this region than school tax reform.
To find out who your senator or representative is, go to
©The Mercury 2007