#PAGov: Wolf Wants to Go Halfsies With Localities on Education Funding

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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.

This entry was posted in Education, Elections, Governor, Issues.

4 Responses to #PAGov: Wolf Wants to Go Halfsies With Localities on Education Funding

  1. Squarian says:

    Jon, just to be clear – by “service inequality”, you mean the wide variations in quality of public education because of “hyperlocal funding” (nice phrase). Right?

    And I’d agree. The parlous state of local education funding in PA ought to be a first-line priority for anyone concerned about the common weal in this commonwealth, trumping almost any policy issue including wealth inequality.

    Wolf’s idea is an interesting and novel approach, potentially more attractive than other recent attempts at prop-tax and education finance reform. I hope you’ll keep us informed on it.

  2. Julieann Wozniak says:

    Not good enough. Southeastern Greene, the rural district where I live, has no tax base. I’m still paying last year’s property taxes.

  3. Gdub says:

    I’d be interested in the numbers that would suggest that an underfunded mandate made better by increased state contributions would “free up money for other things” at the local level.

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