Senate Bill 76 calls for the elimination of school property taxes in the commonwealth.
While it vows to match dollar-for-dollar funding through an imposed increase in personal income and sales taxes and shift responsibility of school funding from local districts to the state, many local leaders said this kind of tax reform could come at a price for some.
“It has been my experience that trying to find $14 billion, which is what you would need, approximately, to replace the local property taxes, is no simple lift,” Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, said. “The last couple years we have struggled to come up with a billion (dollars) just to balance the budget.”
Benninghoff was among a panel of local leaders and education advocates Saturday morning participating in a public discussion on the bill at the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Local legislators, education professionals took part in the panel discussion
The event was sponsored by the State College Branch of American Association of University Women, and moderated by State College Area school board member Dave Hutchinson.
Panelists also included state Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township; Pennsylvania School Boards Association member Sean Crampsie; and Executive Director for Education Voters of Pennsylvania Susan Spicka.
Spicka said Pennsylvania has the most inequitable funding of public schools in the nation. The statistics she provided showed that the state’s wealthiest school district spends greater than 33 percent more on each student than the state’s poorest school districts.
“This is because of the state’s very, very heavy over-reliance on property taxes to fund education,” Spicka said.
If Senate Bill 76 was to pass, the government would impose higher taxes elsewhere to make up for the lost income.
In poor districts in rural Pennsylvania where you have a small property tax basis, there’s not that much money that people are coming up with to pay taxes relative to Allegheny County, Philadelphia, and counties around Philadelphia.
Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania
“When you look at replacing the (school) property taxes, that money will be going into a pot in Harrisburg and they’ll say, ‘Let’s take this big pot of money and send it out to districts to replace the property taxes people once paid,’ ” Spicka said. “In poor districts in rural Pennsylvania, where you have a small property tax basis, there’s not that much money that people are coming up with to pay taxes relative to Allegheny County, Philadelphia and counties around Philadelphia. So when we look at the way this whole thing works, all this money goes into the pot and half the money will go to six counties and the other half of the money goes out to the rest of the state.”
As an example, Spicka said, Bald Eagle Area School District would likely get about $4,900 per student, while Lower Merion School District in Montgomery County would get about $23,000 per student.
“So people in rural areas are going to be paying higher sales (taxes), higher income taxes, and will be getting less property tax relief,” she said.
The idea is to shift from taxation of property to people, which Hutchinson said isn’t always reliable.
He explained to the panel and a group of community members that school boards generally like property taxes because they are “dependable.”
“If there’s a dip in the economy again, sales tax isn’t guaranteed,” Hutchinson said.
But the idea isn’t a new concept, Conklin said — and added that he thinks it could take years to reform.
“Like any bill, you’re going to have some winners and losers,” Conklin said. “But I don’t see it becoming a law. … There’s still a long road ahead.”