New Castle News

October 5, 2013

John K. Manna: Doing away with school property taxes would cause new problems

John K. Manna
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — In less than a month, a bill in the Pennsylvania House went from committee to adoption.

I’m certain it’s no record, but considering the significance of the legislation, the House wasted little time. But this is one bill that House members should have taken longer to consider and even defeat in its current form.

The bill, which would give school districts the option to impose certain taxes as a way to reduce the property tax dollar for dollar, passed 149-46 this week and now goes to the Senate.

There is no doubt that school property taxes present a burden to property owners. For years, legislators have debated tax reform to reduce that burden or eliminate it completely.

A few years ago, with slot machine revenue, homeowners began to see their property tax reduced a little. So, the debate continues.

Rep. Frank Markosek, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Commitee, said the bill passed this week is “something that most people can accept.”

I guess I’m not most people. I pay school property taxes, but this bill does not present the best of options and essentially lets legislators off the hook.

The key word is option. School districts would have the option to levy additional wage taxes, mercantile and business privilege taxes. School districts would not be required to levy these taxes, but could simply maintain the status quo.

As I wrote before, the idea sounds great at first glance, but upon further review this Hail Mary pass has fallen incomplete.

Wage taxes are already levied in every school district and municipality in Lawrence County. Plus, the city of New Castle levies mercantile and business privilege taxes.

My guess is nobody in Harrisburg considered the probability that the same taxpayers would be hit twice under this bill.

Add to that the fact that people who work in New Castle pay a higher wage tax than most in the area because of the city’s Act 47 status.

What is needed in Harrisburg is someone who looks at the big picture, someone to consider the wide ranging effects so that shortsighted legislation such as this can be stopped in its tracks.