New Castle News

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July 7, 2014

John K. Manna: Harrisburg passes the buck to local taxes

NEW CASTLE — By the time you read this, Gov. Tom Corbett may have signed the state budget.

Or, he may have done nothing. Or, he may have vetoed it.

Even though the Republican-controlled Legislature adopted the budget by the June 30 deadline, Corbett refused to sign it because lawmakers had not enacted reforms for the state’s underfunded  pension system.

Despite his position, House Republican leaders delayed any vote on a pension overhaul until September.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Corbett attempted to show how the pension problem is affecting property owners. He said 165 of the state’s 500 school districts requested tax increases above the state-imposed limit this year. Most of them blamed pension costs for the increase, he said.

This is an interesting observation because the governor has acknowledged that what happens in Harrisburg doesn’t stay in Harrisburg. What the state government does or doesn’t do has consequences for Pennsylvania residents paying local taxes.

This hasn’t always been the case. He and the Legislature in general have taken the position that having a balanced state budget — without tax increases — is the top priority regardless of what its effect may be on property owners and residents in general.

The state government’s failure to address education needs became evident this week in a report by the U.S. Department of Education that the main campuses of the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State University had the highest tuitions among public colleges and universities in the nation.

Pitt was No. 1 with a tuition of $16,590 and Penn State was second with $16,444 in 2012-13. Temple University in Philadelphia placed 19th.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pitt spokesman Ken Service said the fact that the three state schools are high on the list “is directly related to the fact that Pennsylvania continues to provide substantially less support for public higher education than other states, passing more of the cost on to students and their families.”

The tuition increases might not be totally attributable to the state’s failure to appropriate enough money, but the state shares part of the blame.

Except for some legislators, mostly on the Democratic side, there is no evidence that there will be any change in attitude in Harrisburg. But perhaps there is a slim chance if voters decide to change administrations in November.

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