New Castle News

Editorials

April 5, 2013

Our Opinion: Doing away with major levy will have various consequences

NEW CASTLE — What would Pennsylvania look like if there were no school property taxes?

Quite different, in a variety of ways. Such a move would alter the state’s political, economic and educational landscape.

We’re referring to a plan recently introduced in Harrisburg that would put an end to school property taxes. It’s an intriguing concept, but one that’s probably not going to happen.

For a politician, it’s easy to make a proposal to do away with a particular tax. The hard part is determining what happens then and getting enough people on board to do something about it.

Eliminating school property taxes obviously wouldn’t do away with the costs of public education in Pennsylvania, so the money would have to come from other sources. The current proposal in Harrisburg would increase both the state sales and income taxes to make up the difference.

There will be people who wouldn’t be happy with that outcome.

Still, it’s worth considering how things would change if people no longer had to pay school property taxes. One result, we think, is that it would benefit communities such as New Castle.

In the city, high school taxes (relative to surrounding areas) serve as a deterrent for attracting new businesses and residents. If the school tax didn’t exist, property in New Castle would be more competitive.

But perhaps the biggest change under this proposal would involve the dynamics of how schools are funded and who makes the decisions. Right now, local school boards determine property tax rates, and are responsible for approving budgets.

Yet if all public school revenue is derived from state tax sources, the Pennsylvania Legislature will have complete authority over education funding.

And let’s be honest, if lawmakers are the ones with the political responsibility for imposing school taxes, they will become more aggressive in determining how that money is spent. The end result will be more educational decisions shifting away from the local level and toward Harrisburg.

Many school board members might be happy with a situation where they are freed of any tax-related decisions. But the down side will be the loss of control over other educational matters.

This situation might be particularly offensive in the commonwealth’s more affluent school districts, where property taxes now make up the lion’s share of education revenue. Such districts opt for high tax rates in order to provide substantial educational options for their students.

But if Harrisburg is footing the bill, these districts won’t have anywhere near the spending control they have now. Such districts likely will object loudly to the property tax elimination plan.

Undoubtedly there are other consequences to consider when it comes to doing away with school property taxes. If this legislation lingers in Harrisburg, we’re sure we’ll hear more about them.

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