(Jun 4) Prioritize Schools and Communities Over New State Tax Cuts, Local Officials Urge Harrisburg

(June 4, 2013) Better Choices for Pennsylvania Coalition Press Release

Local officials from across Pennsylvania came to Harrisburg today with a message for state lawmakers: prioritize investments in our schools, county health services, and infrastructure over new tax cuts.

Years of state tax cuts have shifted more costs onto local communities and taxpayers. The local officials urged lawmakers to delay a planned cut next year to a corporate tax that has already been reduced by 85 percent in order to restore funding to the services that people and businesses rely on everyday.

“Budgets are about priorities, and it is time for Harrisburg to put its priorities into what counts: schools, roads, safe and healthy communities – so that we can move our state forward,” said Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner. “While I certainly recognize the need for balancing budgets, budgets should not be balanced on the backs of our students, working families and the elderly.”

Current state law will eliminate the capital stock and franchise tax, now at a record low rate, in 2014. Keeping that tax at 2012 levels would raise an additional $360 million for the 2013-14 budget, helping prevent deep cuts to investments that are key to Pennsylvania’s future.

Wagner, who served in the Legislature from 2007 to 2012, noted that annual reductions to the capital stock and franchise tax have been paused in the past when the economy was in recession and state revenues dropped. With the state again facing fiscal challenges, she said the Legislature should again delay this tax cut.Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz said that Mayor Nutter’s city budget for 2014 reflects a $25 million cut in state aid to the city. “These cuts could have a devastating impact on Philadelphia’s most vulnerable people,” Controller Butkovitz said. “The cuts hit the human services budget the hardest.”

Several other speakers agreed.

“We urge the Legislature to delay these planned tax cuts and use the savings to restore funding to public education,” said Roberta Marcus, school board vice president for the Parkland School District in Allentown. “When Pennsylvania lawmakers do not raise the necessary revenue to meet the core priorities of the commonwealth, such as the constitutional right of public education, the burden falls heavier on the local school district taxpayers.”

W. Ronald Williams, a Republican member of the Pottstown School Board in Montgomery County, emphasized that lawmakers had to rise above partisan differences and do what’s best for the children of the commonwealth – including delaying any planned tax cuts next year.

Jennifer Desmarais, vice president of the Lancaster School Board, said that her district has responded to state budget cuts by reducing library programs, eliminating elementary school Spanish, and increasing class sizes, among other measures.Several other public school officials explained how state cuts in funding, driven partly by state-level tax cuts, have cost their constituents.

“Each year the district takes numerous steps to approve a balanced budget,” Desmarais said. “While I commend our administration and board’s vision to keep programmatic and staff reductions furthest from the classroom, after years of modifying our programs, it has become nearly impossible for our students, staff and our constituents – the taxpayers – to not feel the burden.”

“With the increase of every day operational costs to schools, municipalities and counties, the term level funding is a cut,” said Rocky Ahner, president of the Lehighton School Board in Carbon County.

”School districts in our area are using fund balances to balance their budgets to give taxpayers relief in this uncertain state budget,” he added. “As a responsible school board, we still dig deeper to keep drug and alcohol curriculum and afterschool activities that are essential to the safety and welfare of our students.”

“Over the past three years we have reduced our faculty and administration by 20 positions,” said Robert L. Urzillo, Ed.D., superintendent of the Blue Mountain School District in Schuylkill County. “What does this mean? We now have fewer electives at the high school, larger class sizes at the middle and elementary schools, and fewer classes per year in library and physical education at the elementary level.”

Controller Wagner said the Governor’s budget proposal does little to address the pressures facing school districts and counties and does not go far enough to address the crisis facing transportation infrastructure in Pennsylvania.

“The budget retains nearly $2 billion dollars in education and health service cuts, with no long-term proposals to repair failing public schools, and it offers us an incomplete transportation funding plan that falls well short of the money needed to bring Pennsylvania’s infrastructure up to code,” she said.

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