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School property taxes ensure community-controlled education

Published September 01. 2012 09:02AM

I am a strong supporter of local school property taxes as they put the community in charge of our children's education.

In the Hamburg School District where I live, our taxes are higher than the surrounding communities. While some people complain about their property taxes, most of us are willing to pay more to ensure that our schools meet the needs of our children. Overall, we get good value for every dollar spent on education. Our schools are modern, our class sizes are reasonable and our teachers are paid fairly well.

I agree with the property tax detractors that school taxes place the burden on the backs of property owners. There is no free ride for renters. Property owners pass on their costs in the rent they charge their tenants. This includes the school tax. If the school tax is eliminated, property owners may not reduce the rent they charge. They may continue to charge existing rent, even though their costs are lower. There is nothing in the legislation to roll back rents when the tax is eliminated.

Once the bill is implemented, funding for our local schools will transfer from the community to the state. In the first year, funding will be frozen at the current levels. After that, schools will get increased funding based on changes in the cost-of-living index. School boards that have long-term debt will still be able to issue property tax bills to cover that debt until the loans have been fully repaid. After that, they will not be able to issue property tax bills.

School districts that require more funding than the state is willing to provide can place a taxing resolution on the ballot for voter approval. Voters can approve an earned income or a personal income tax to collect the funding requested by the school board. The net result is that property taxes are replaced with increased sales taxes and the potential to increase personal income taxes.

In 1953, the PA Education Sales Tax was created to fund our schools. Unfortunately, local school boards could not operate on this level of funding alone. The school property tax makes up for the shortfall and has risen dramatically over the last 60 years. Let me restate this: we introduced a state sales tax to fund education and increased property taxes to make up for funding deficiencies when the sales tax could not provide the necessary funding. The measure failed in 1953 and it will ultimately fail in 2012.

Now, the state government wants to take away each community's ability to fund the schools that they want. When additional funding is needed under the state's plan, the school board can go "hat-in-hand" to Harrisburg to beg for additional money. If the funding is declined, then the school board must convince the electorate to pass an additional income tax. This makes the state look like heroes for ending property taxes while the school board looks financially irresponsible when additional funding is required.

The real losers are our children. With state control of funding, school boards that are currently providing an excellent education for their students will be forced to lower their standards so they are consistent with schools in other areas.

The reason many people chose to live in our community is that they did not want their children going to schools in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. Now the state wants to take financial control away from the local communities. This can only mean that the quality of education in our school district will decline under state mandates.

House Bill 1776 results in massive sales tax increases. The largest increase comes by vastly increasing the types of goods and services that are subject to sales tax. There will be sales taxes on some food items that are currently not taxed. In addition personal hygiene products, magazines and newspapers and even caskets, burial vaults and funeral services will be subject to sales tax.

I find it unconscionable that the state wants to place an additional tax on the dead! We won't even let them get to their final resting place without charging them sales tax! This is outrageous!

Services that have traditionally been sales-tax free will now be taxed. This includes admissions to the museums, some sporting events and even the theater and performing arts presentations. Our cable TV will be taxed, as will parking lot fees and even fees for campgrounds and parks. If you want to sue the government over this, then you will have to pay sales tax on your legal fees. If you want to build a house, you will have to pay sales tax for the architectural design and engineering. If you need an accountant to do your taxes at the end of the year, you will now pay sales tax for those services.

Under this new legislation, virtually everything we buy except a few basic food items will be taxed. Sales taxes are considered to be regressive taxes because they affect the entire population and place a greater burden on the poor or those on fixed incomes. Everyone making a purchase from a three-year old buying candy to a 97-year-old person buying nonprescription medications pays the same sales tax.

These taxes also generate a significant amount of money. The proposed increases will raise over $12.7 billion. Over time, the state will continue to increase the sales tax or personal income taxes to meet their spending needs. The good of the local community will not be considered. They will only think about how much they need and how they can collect it.

When local school boards lose their taxing authority, the state will dictate how our school districts are funded, what programs are acceptable and what to pay our teachers. I believe the success of our education system here in Pennsylvania is a direct result of local community funding and involvement. In my opinion, we must kill this bill!

HR bills 1776 and the accompanying Senate Bill 1400 must be defeated if we are to ensure that our local schools meet the needs of our community and our children get the education they deserve.

I am proud to pay my property taxes and to support our local school district.

© 2012 Gordon Smith All Rights Reserved

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