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Video: Don’t Let Property Tax Plan Derail PA Schools

6:37 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

 

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

The future of Pennsylvania schools — and the quality of education every child receives — is at stake in a property tax proposal in Harrisburg.

The plan to swap property taxes for higher state levies will drain billions from Pennsylvania classrooms within a few years. Over time, it increases funding inequities across districts and makes it harder for future graduates to compete in a 21st century job market.

There is a better way. Watch our new whiteboard video to see how we can strengthen our schools, make funding more equitable, and address property tax concerns. Then share the video with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Good schools are vital to every community and its economy. Yet the real problem, as our video explains, is that Pennsylvania trails most other states when it comes to state funding for public schools. By investing more state dollars in education, Pennsylvania can improve its schools and ease the pressure on property taxes.

In other words, we can have good schools AND help people having trouble paying their property taxes.

What’s at Stake for PA Schools in Property Tax Debate?

12:47 pm in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Michael Wood, Third and State

Pittsburgh Weil Public School ( PreK–5)

The latest proposal to eliminate property taxes in Pennsylvania would leave school districts with $2.6 billion less in overall funding within five years, according to an analysis from the Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office. Matthew Knittel of the IFO presented the findingsduring a Pennsylvania Senate Finance Committee hearing Tuesday.

The plan — proposed in both HB 76 and SB 76 — would swap school property taxes for higher state income and sales taxes, largely on individuals. The IFO, which did not take a position on the bill, compared what could be expected from the new mix of state funding to projected property tax revenue over time and tallied the fiscal impact on school districts and state government.

Much like with previous versions of this property tax plan, the numbers don’t add up. The IFO projects school districts would receive $112 million less in funding than they would have received from property taxes in 2014-15, which grows to $2.6 billion by 2018-19

The reason is fairly simple. The bills place an artificial limit (the lower of sales tax growth or rate of inflation) on how much in new income and sales tax dollars go to school districts to replace lost property taxes in future years. This is true even if those state tax collections exceed the caps, as they likely would in most years. The bill does not address how schools are to pay for increasing pension obligations, let alone costs for health care, supplies, or utilities that may increase in price faster than inflation.

Like all tax swaps, this one picks winners and losers — with Pennsylvania’s school students and the state’s future among the biggest losers.

Corporations, which pay about 30% of all property taxes and are among the largest taxpayers in many districts, would come out as big winners. Their school property taxes would be eliminated, but unlike individuals or small businesses, corporations would pay no more in state taxes. Instead, their share of school funding would be shifted to individuals and small business owners who pay income taxes and consumers who pay sales tax. (Many goods and services purchased by businesses would remain exempt from the state sales tax under this plan).

Renters, including many seniors, would see higher sales tax and income tax bills, but little “relief” in the form of lower rent payments. For low-income families, this plan is Robin Hood in reverse, with poor renters paying higher taxes to subsidize tax cuts for wealthy property owners.

For non-elderly homeowners, it’s a mixed bag. Homeowners would see their local property taxes decline, but their state income taxes would rise. Many homeowners would also see their federal taxes increase, as they would lose a deduction for paying property taxes.

Many school districts have already adopted earned income taxes to reduce dependence on property taxes. Taxpayers in those districts would pay increased state taxes to subsidize property tax cuts in other parts of the state.

The change could make houses in Pennsylvania less affordable in the future. When California adopted property tax limits, it saw housing prices skyrocket.

Many seniors and people with medical conditions would have to pay sales tax on an array of health care goods and services.

Finally, schools would receive much less than they need to help students succeed. Good schools are the lifeblood of a community and its economy. If we shortchange our schools, how will Pennsylvania ever prepare better workers for tomorrow’s economy or attract and retain businesses that need skilled workers?

Paying property taxes are a real problem for some homeowners and in some specific areas of the state. We should address those concerns with targeted reforms rather than a one-size-fits-all approach that has been adopted nowhere else in the nation. Some of the reform efforts, like Act 1 of 2006, have helped moderate property tax growth — and the IFO report reflects that. Many districts have adopted earned income taxes to lessen reliance on property taxes.

The most effective way to ease Pennsylvania’s over-reliance on local sources for school funding is to increase the state’s support of education. Pennsylvania trails most states in state funding for schools, creating tremendous inequities across districts. A good education should not depend on where a child lives. The state needs to make — and keep — a commitment to provide a larger share of school funding. That is the key to a healthier economy and a better Pennsylvania.

Final Pa. Budget Fails to Make Up Lost Ground

12:03 pm in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has released a full detailed analysis of the 2013-14 state budget plan spending $28.376 billion, roughly $645 million (or 2.3%) more than in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Governor Tom Corbett signed the budget into law late in the evening of June 30, 2013. Overall, the plan is $64 million less than the Governor proposed in February, reflecting nearly $113 million in reduced spending for public school pensions and school employees’ Social Security payments along with a shift of $90 million in General Fund spending off budget to other funds.

2012-13 General Fund Summary
(in $ Millions)
2012-13 2013-14
Gov.
2013-14
Final
Change f/ 2012-13 %
Change
General Fund $27,731 $28,440 $28,376 +$645 2.3%

The plan includes a small increase to basic education funding, $122.5 million overall, with $30.2 million allocated to 21 school districts through a supplemental allocation, on top of the $90 million increase in the Governor’s proposal.

After many years of cuts, most programs received small increases in the Governor’s proposed budget, which remained in the final plan.

Changes to pension benefits for current employees, the cornerstone of the Governor’s original budget proposal, did not occur. The Legislature does not seem inclined to tamper with benefits for current employees. A proposal to move to a 401(k)-style retirement plan for new employees gained traction later in the session but was not adopted. This proposal may return in the fall.

Also abandoned was an $800 million education initiative to be funded through the sale of state liquor stores. While the privatization vs. modernization debate held center stage until the last week of the session, the school funding component was quickly abandoned and was not part of legislative proposals. Privatization is likely to be considered in the fall, as well.

For the first time in two years, there were no major cuts to services for vulnerable Pennsylvanians; however, a bill that would expand Medicaid coverage in 2014, a state option under the federal Affordable Care Act, was left undone. Legislation including the Medicaid expansion won bipartisan support in the Senate, but the House stripped out the expansion provision from the bill. When the bill returned to the Senate, a last ditch effort to restore the Medicaid expansion provision failed in a dramatic Senate committee vote on July 3.

Finally, a transportation funding package that would repair crumbling infrastructure and give a much needed shot in the arm to Pennsylvania’s flagging job growth failed to pass the House, despite overwhelming support in the Senate.

Get all the details from PBPC’s budget analysis.

Three New Tax Breaks Will Cost PA Schools and Services

7:31 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

private jet

Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering legislation that will give tax breaks to those who purchase private and corporate aircrafts

After making deep cuts to schools, early childhood education, and health and human services, Pennsylvania lawmakers are now considering new tax breaks that will largely benefit a small number of higher-income earners.

Last week, the Senate Finance Committee approved legislation that would create a new loophole in the state inheritance tax. It allows business owners to bequeath business assets tax-free to their heirs — an advantage unavailable to most hardworking Pennsylvanians who inherit a family home or car.

Over in the House, the Finance Committee voted 18-16 on Wednesday to approve a bill that would exempt sales tax on the purchase of private and corporate aircraft, jet parts, and aircraft maintenance and repair. A car or truck purchase will still be subject to sales tax, but those in the market for a private jet will get a tax break.

Finally, the House Commerce Committee is voting today on legislation that would reward investors in Pennsylvania start-up companies with a new tax credit that they can take even if they owe no state taxes. To qualify for the credit, the investor must have a net worth of $1 million or income above $200,000 a year.

Each bill, estimated to cost millions annually, could come up for votes before the House and Senate in the coming weeks. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has more on all three bills here.

These bills come on top of Governor Corbett’s proposal to enact a new round of tax cuts beginning in 2015 that will ultimately cost hundreds of millions from the state treasury and put profitable corporations first in line when future budgets are negotiated. It would be the latest in a series of costly special tax breaks over the decade that have undermined Pennsylvania’s ability to invest in schools and other vital services.

Pennsylvania can continue to fund special tax breaks like these or we can invest again in our children and our economic future — but increasingly we can’t do both. Unaccountable tax cuts undermine success in the classroom and growth in our communities, and they shift costs onto school districts, local governments, and property taxpayers.

Pennsylvania needs real tax reform that closes loopholes, ends special tax breaks, and levels the playing field for everyone. Only then can we enact a state budget that returns to tried-and-true investments in education and the services that promote long-term economic growth.

Read the rest of this entry →

State Tax Cuts Take a Bite Out of Pennsylvania’s Budget Pie

9:36 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

Advocates delivered half a pie to every Pennsylvania legislator Tuesday. Why half a pie?

To remind them that a decade of large tax cuts for businesses has left schools, health care services, and local communities with a smaller share of the state budget pie.

Tax cuts enacted since 1999 have drained close to $3 billion this year alone from state coffers. The cost of the tax cuts has more than tripled since 2002, with little to show for it. Too often, these tax cuts are put in place with very little accountability or obligation for companies to create jobs. In fact, Pennsylvania ranked 27th in job growth in 1999-2000 but fell to 34th in 2011-12.

Budget cuts fueled by large business tax cuts also pass the buck to school districts and local governments – and onto local taxpayers.

Governor Corbett is now proposing a new round of tax cuts for 2015 and beyond that will cost as much as an additional $1 billion. The proposal includes no plan to close tax loopholes that allow companies to hide profits and avoid paying their share of taxes.

Pennsylvania needs a budget that returns to tried-and-true investments in education and the public infrastructure that promotes long-term economic growth. After a long economic downturn, that is the path to more jobs, stronger communities, and a brighter future for our children.

We can fund corporate tax cuts or we can fund our children’s schools, but increasingly we can’t do both. Giving larger slices of the pie to profitable corporations means less money in the classroom, fewer early childhood programs, and less support for local services.

Pennsylvania needs real tax reform that levels the playing field for businesses that play by the rules, and stops giving away dollars that are essential to helping our children and families succeed. Only then will we be able to invest in a world-class public education and the community assets that build a stronger economy.

Photo by Mr. T in DC released under Creative Commons License

Pa. Budget: Failing to Invest in a Stronger State Economy

7:38 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

Despite ending the 2011-12 fiscal year with a $649 million fund balance, Pennsylvania fails to make the investments essential to building a strong economy or to reverse a recent trend where job growth in the commonwealth has lagged behind other states.

So concludes the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center analysis of the enacted 2012-13 state budget, which was released Friday.

In the final budget, the General Assembly restores some of the cuts proposed by Governor Tom Corbett, while leaving intact a 10% cut to human services and deep cuts to public schools and higher education made in 2011. The budget continues to shift costs to local governments and taxpayers, while adding new tax breaks for businesses.

The spending plan, at $27.656 billion, is $517 million more than the Governor’s February proposal but remains below budgeted 2008-09 levels, despite four years of recession-driven increases in demand for services. The largest cut in this budget comes from the elimination of the General Assistance Program, which provides a temporary monthly benefit to 68,887 Pennsylvanians who are sick, disabled or escaping an abuser. It ends next month

Cuts to education enacted last year, meanwhile, have diminished the quality of instruction in our poorest school districts and resulted in the loss of 14,000 jobs in 2011.

The budget squeezes money out of human services, education and General Assistance at the same time it expands and creates new tax credits and continues the ongoing phase-out of the capital stock and franchise tax. This is part of a decade-long pattern that will see the commonwealth spending $2.4 billion on corporate tax breaks in the new budget. That amount has tripled over the last 10 years and does not count the hundreds of millions of dollars lost annually to corporate tax loopholes. Most of these tax breaks primarily benefit the largest corporations and come with no commitment to create jobs.

As the economy continues to recover, Pennsylvania will need to make public investments to build a strong economy and make Pennsylvania a place where families will want to live. This budget takes a small step in that direction, but falls well short of where we need to be.

Check out the center’s budget analysis for more.

PA Starts New Fiscal Year with $400 Million in the Bank

1:12 pm in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Michael Wood, Third and State

After a less than stellar May, General Fund tax collections bounced back strongly in June — exceeding estimate by $170 million, or 6.5%. This narrowed the 2011-12 revenue shortfall to $163 million, or less than 1% of total estimated collections for the year.

As a result, the state ended the year in a much better fiscal situation than projected back in February, when Governor Tom Corbett released his budget plan. Counting the dollars the state had in the bank, Pennsylvania actually started the fiscal year with a $400 million fund balance.

The recently enacted budget acknowledged this but only to a point. The Legislature increased General Fund spending in 2012-13 by $655 million from the Governor’s  proposal — restoring funding in a number of important areas: higher education, accountability block grants, and half of the 20% cut proposed for county services included in the now-rejected Human Services Development Block Grant. Lawmakers also found funding for another round of business tax breaks.

However, June collections indicate more could have been done — for General Assistance recipients, environmental programs, and child care. Lawmakers also passed on setting aside any of the additional revenue in the Rainy Day Fund.

Click here for the Tale of the Tape.

The revenue surplus in June was led by corporate tax collections — coming in $180 million higher than the monthly target, or 38%. After falling short of estimates for seven of the first eight months of the fiscal year, corporate taxes ended June with a small surplus of $39 million, or 0.8%.

Personal income tax collections were also surpassed estimate in June by $26 million, or 2.7%. For the fiscal year, PIT collections were $199 million, or 1.8%, below expectations — not a surprise given the slower-than-expected decrease in the unemployment rate and general sluggishness in the economy.

Sales tax receipts were $46 million, or 5.5%, lower than expected in June. This pushed yearly sales tax collections slightly below estimate ($16 million, or 0.2%).

All major categories of taxes grew in 2011-12. In total, they exceeded 2010-11 levels by $688 million, or 2.6%.

Piecing Together the PA Budget Framework

2:26 pm in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

(photo: Dbenbenn / wikimedia)

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

Some details emerged Thursday about the state budget framework unveiled midweek by Governor Tom Corbett and legislative leaders, but questions still remain. More details may be available later today when budget spreadsheets are released.

Funding for county human services is one area that appears to be in flux, as some House Republicans continue to voice concerns about a plan to block grant and cut that funding.

A number of GOP House lawmakers want to add more dollars for the mental health and mental disability programs in that mix, said [Rep. Mario] Scavello.

A Senate-approved bill restores half of the $168 million spending cut for the human services programs initially proposed by Mr. Corbett. House members would like to restore even more money but have to balance that with cuts elsewhere, he added.

Although the statewide association representing county commissioners recently agreed to a two-year phase-in for the block grant, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-18, Bensalem, chairman of the House Human Services Committee, said he’s trying to stop the block grant altogether and substitute a pilot program for several counties instead …

The seven programs considered for a block grant include community mental health and mental disability services, the human services development fund, homeless assistance, child welfare grants, the Behavorial Health Services Initiative and Act 152 drug and alcohol treatment programs.

While there is some hope for restoring more funds to county human services, one area that appeared not to make the cut is the state’s General Assistance Program. The governor proposed — and legislative leaders appear to have agreed to — eliminating this modest benefit for temporarily disabled adults, which will have a devastating on nearly 70,000 Pennsylvanians striving to avoid homelessness and build a better life for themselves.

One item unlikely to survive, despite protests from church groups and advocates for the poor, is the so-called general assistance program that provides cash benefits to nearly 70,000 temporarily disabled adults. Corbett proposed eliminating the funding, and legislative leaders did not seek to restore it.

Brenda Freeman of West Philadelphia, who has peripheral edema, which swells tissues in her arms and legs, said that program had been “my only income.” Freeman, 38, whose condition makes it very difficult to stand or sit for long periods and who telephoned The Inquirer to protest the cut, said: “What am I going to have to do — eat out of a trash can?”

“There still is a chance to do something,” she said. “I’m hoping that they do the right thing.”

Pennsylvania’s public schools and universities are likely to see no change in their funding, after sustaining deep cuts in the budget enacted last year.

On Thursday afternoon, the House Appropriations Committee approved funding bills for the four state-related universities as well as the Veterinary School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Though he stopped short of confirming that the schools — Penn State, Temple and Lincoln universities and the University of Pittsburgh — would be flat-funded at current levels, “we are working toward that idea,” said Drew Crompton, the chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson.

The four schools were targeted for 30 percent cuts in Corbett’s $27.14 billion budget proposal unveiled in February. An amended version of the budget approved by the Senate this spring would fund at current levels: Penn State at $227 million; Temple at $139 million; Lincoln at $11 million and the University of Pittsburgh at $136 million.

Crompton said budget negotiators are moving in a similar direction with the state system schools … The schools would be maintained at their current level of $412 million.

Finally, multiple newspapers are reporting that Accountability Block Grants, which support full-day kindergarten and other early childhood programs, will be restored to $100 million after the governor proposed eliminating them. More funding will likely be approved for distressed schools and to expand the state Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, which allows businesses to donate to private school scholarships and recover most, if not all, of their contribution through tax benefits.

Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, said negotiators told him the tentative agreement includes $25 million to expand the current Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, which is currently funded at $75 million. An additional $50 million would be available to students who attend a school among the state’s lowest-achieving 15 percent.

The Myths Behind Governor Corbett’s PA Budget Myths

7:48 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

Governor Tom Corbett’s May 21 newsletter offered up responses to five “myths” the administration claims are circulating about his proposed budget for next year. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center examined these myths and the myths behind the myths to give you a clear picture about what is fact and what is fiction in Harrisburg.

Governor’s Myth #1: Pennsylvania spends more money building prisons than building schools.

We’re not sure where this one came from, but we will give it a whirl.

Fact: The Corbett administration’s budget includes a moratorium on new school construction projections, and NO FUNDING for school district projects in the pipeline.

Fact: If the Governor’s proposed plan for higher education is adopted, Pennsylvania will spend twice as much on prisons as it does on colleges. In 2009-10, the state’s corrections budget was $1.8 billion and college funding was $1.5 billion. If the Governor had his way, Pennsylvania would spend $1.9 billion on corrections and $980 million on colleges in 2012-13.

Fact: It costs the state much more to house prisoners than it does to educate a child. In 2011-12, Pennsylvania will house 49,000 inmates at a cost of $35,188 per inmate and spend $9.3 billion to educate 1.8 million students at a cost in state dollars of $5,305 per child.

Fact: It is better to build schools than to build prisons.

Governor’s Myth #2: The reductions in higher education funding will cause universities to raise tuition.

Well, cutting college funding is certainly not going to help keep tuition down.

Fact: Public subsidies keep college tuition more affordable. In 2009-10, the average cost (nationally) of a public four-year college education was $15,014, while the average cost of a four-year private college was more than double at $32,790.

Fact: From 1999 to 2011, Pennsylvania’s state funding for higher education fell by 12%.

Fact: The Governor and General Assembly cut public colleges by 20% last year, and the Governor proposed to cut 30% more this year.

Fact: Pennsylvania ranked 46th in public college funding as a share of personal income in 2011-12.

Fact: Our economy can’t grow if our children don’t have a college education.

Governor’s Myth #3: The proposed budget reduces funding for K-12 education and will force school districts to raise property taxes.

That’s no myth, that’s a fact.

Fact: The budget proposed by Governor Corbett and enacted by the General Assembly in June 2011 gave school districts $860 million less than they received the previous year. That included a reduction of 7%, or $421 million, in the basic education subsidy.

Fact: The Governor’s cuts killed jobs. School districts cut programs, raised taxes and eliminated positions. In 2011, the state lost 14,000 jobs in public schools and universities.

Governor’s Myth #4: The elimination of cash assistance will mainly hurt children and victims of domestic violence.

Fact: In February, the Governor proposed eliminating the General Assistance program. The Governor is right: most of those affected are people with a permanent disability waiting for approval for Social Security disability benefits, or those who have an addiction and are eligible to receive the $200 monthly grant for seven months, in their lifetime.

Fact: Women and children lost their health care, not cash assistance, when the Department of Public Welfare did a quick and dirty eligibility review and threw 88,000 kids out of state health insurance programs. Moms, seniors and people with disabilities (the only ones who can get health care coverage through Medical Assistance) lost their coverage too.

Fact: The budget cuts vulnerable adults as well as children. Do you feel better now?

Governor’s Myth #5: The proposed budget reduces funding for the arts.

Fact: The Governor has level-funded grants for the arts for two years. What has gone by the wayside is arts and music education that have been slashed by school districts as a result of the cuts to education (see Myth #2).

Educational Tax Credits Are Often a Bait-and-Switch

2:22 pm in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

Day 62 - Scholarships

(Photo: kylebaker/flickr)

 

A story in Monday’s New York Times explores the use of state tax credit programs to pay for “scholarships” for students who attend private schools. The story suggests that many of the students who receive such scholarships already attend private school and are not low-income.

To the extent that this is true, the political marketing of these programs as alternatives (for a select few students) to public schools in distressed communities is a “bait and switch.” Educational tax credits actually siphon taxpayer dollars to subsidize private schools, reducing state revenues available for public schools.

Is this how the scholarships to attend private schools work under Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program?

Probably: there is no prohibition on EITC scholarships going to students already attending private schools; middle-class families are eligible to receive scholarships (the income limit for a family of four is $84,000); and there is no evidence that even this income limit is enforced. In fact, Pennsylvania’s Act 46 of 2005 prohibits the state from requesting from scholarship organizations any information other than the number and amount of scholarships that they give out. I guess we’re just supposed to trust the scholarship organizations to self-enforce the income limit.

The lack of definitive evidence on who receives scholarships under Pennsylvania’s EITC program is consistent with the overall lack of accountability in the program, which has now cost Pennsylvania taxpayers more than a third of a billion dollars. EITC scholarships lack both financial accountability (how money is actually used) and educational accountability (who gets the scholarships and how scholarship students perform in school compared to similar public school students) — as we documented in a report last year.

The New York Times story documents that Pennsylvania’s program works very well for some businesses, lobbyists, and lawmakers. The lobbyists set up scholarship organizations, solicit business clients whose donations actually make them money (because the state tax credit alone is worth up to 90% of donations and the federal tax write-off takes the savings well over 100%), and the lobbyists and key lawmakers then influence which schools (and students?) get the scholarships. Then there’s a photo op at the private school that local media write up as a demonstration of the business’s generosity and the legislator’s good work.

Everybody wins. Except perhaps the children whose public schools face funding cuts that much bigger because of the revenues lost to the EITC program.