The national average for state share of education funding is 48%. Tom Wolf is proposing taking the state share up to 50%.
During the Rendell administration, the state’s share of education funding got up to a high of 44%, and under Tom Corbett, it went down to 32%.
Wolf would pay for the change with a progressive increase in the state’s income tax, and a dollar-for-dollar decrease in local property taxes. The state Constitution’s Uniformity Clause prevents us from creating a progressive rate structure for the state income tax, so Wolf is proposing a jury-rigged version.
He’d create a universal exemption for the first x dollars of income, and then raise the income tax rate. He’s not willing to commit to a number yet for the exemption, which is a little annoying, but he says it’s because he wants to get the latest numbers on income and tax distribution before committing.
It’s a good deal for progressive redistribution, a good deal for urban places like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh where state funding can help free up more money in the budget for other things, and it’s a good deal for beleaguered school districts which have weathered three years of cuts and property tax increases from the Corbett administration.
Corbett’s dirty little secret is that a huge part of school funding is mandated but not funded by the state, so when the state cuts below a certain point, that forces local tax increases. It’s a back door way of raising taxes that (he thinks) doesn’t leave fingerprints behind, but voters figured it out anyway, and are largely blaming Corbett, not local officials, for these tax increases.
The land portion of the property tax is a progressive tax, so I don’t want to see us get away from this too much – especially as Thomas Piketty says a growing source of wealth inequality is housing (and really land). But the hyperlocal funding of schools is a huge problem for service inequality, which in my opinion is a more important priority at state and local level than tax progressivity or income or wealth inequality.