In 2014, Gov. Tom Corbett will no doubt campaign that he honored his pledge not to raise taxes during his first term. So far, that’s true -- he just made it so everyone else had to raise them.
The screams of anguish and gnashing of teeth you might have heard this spring were school boards throughout the Commonwealth cutting teachers and programs and raising taxes to fill budget gaps. School boards have had to face property owners complaining about another tax increase in a weak economy, plus parents and students angry over program cuts and teacher layoffs.
Remember, school board members are unpaid, and this year it’s got to feel like they volunteered to be crossing guards on I-78.
Mind you, Corbett inherited a boatload of tough choices with the state’s budget shortfall of $4.1 billion; some economic pain was inevitable from the Great Recession. But he boxed himself in by pledging during the election not to raise taxes.
Corbett, using outdated figures, recently claimed that districts like Parkland with healthy fund balances should use them to avoid raising taxes.
But districts are depleting their fund balances. Parkland, Easton Area, Allentown and Southern Lehigh are among the Lehigh Valley school districts that are using such money to close budget gaps. The East Penn School Board has had a over whether the district is keeping too much in budgetary reserves.
Besides, it’s good fiscal stewardship for districts to have a reserve to pay for the coming tsunami of public school employee pension costs. Otherwise, how likely is it that the voters will approve 10-15 percent tax hikes when the biggest pension bills come due?
Even with my property taxes increasing both from a school tax hike and next year with Lehigh County’s reassessment, I see school taxes as a bargain.
If my husband and I had to pay the full freight to send our two kids to school, it would cost us upwards of $22,000 a year, which would eat up a huge chunk of our income. Instead, I look at it as if the cost of paying for school was amortized over our adult lives in the form of school taxes.
But if Corbett and the state Legislature would raise the state income tax for education, that makes more sense than increasing property taxes because property taxes hurt so many seniors who are on fixed incomes but still in their homes.
So what about the people who have no children or whose kids go to private schools? Well, if you can’t think of public education of all children as a public good, then at least think of your property values. Few things bring down property values faster than troubled schools.
The bigger picture is that my kids and everyone else’s are going to be the workforce that contributes to our Social Security and Medicare.
They will build our bridges and roads, fix our cars, fill our prescriptions, cure our diseases, invent the next big thing, entertain us, protect us and govern us.
Education is their ladder; let’s not hobble it.