Advocate: Pa. plan to ax school property taxes not as advertised

By Tom Huntington - For Times Leader
Spicka -

WRIGHT TWP. — Susan Spicka, executive director of the Education Voters of Pennsylvania advocacy group, said this week that residents hoping for a tax break through House and Senate Bill 76 might not get what politicians are telling them.

Spicka, who appeared at Crestwood High School at a public education funding seminar, said the proposed bill outlines a process for replacing real estate taxes while raising the state’s personal income and sales taxes. But she noted school districts could still levy real estate taxes to pay down existing debt.

In fact, a York Daily Record story from April noted taxpayers in nearly half of Pennsylvania school districts would maintain at least 20 percent of their current property taxes because of debt. That’s based on an assessment of 2014-15 data by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.

Spicka suggested taxpayers might actually be paying more in taxation if the bill passes.

In Crestwood’s case, the school board recently financed $4.5 million to fund capital projects, including a controversial field house at the athletic stadium. Spicka said under the state proposal, real estate taxes would have to continue until that debt is resolved.

Andrew Seder, a spokesperson for state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, confirmed Spicka’s comments were accurate.

Overall, Spicka also speculated Crestwood could see a decline in state reimbursement under Senate Bill 76. Reimbursement has been a major issue in Crestwood’s current budget process; school board members and administrative officials contend a shortage in state funding is driving a proposed 5.5 percent increase in real estate taxes in their 2018-19 budget of $40 million.

The district was also on the brink of laying off teachers.

Spicka, who resides in Shippensburg, encouraged Mountain Top area residents to become active in the political process “to get Harrisburg to act.”

The meeting, which didn’t attract an audience as large as recent school board meetings, included comments about taxing the natural gas industry to raise more revenue.

State lawmakers and two high school students also spoke.

Students Lisa McKenna and Erin Barna echoed the call for increased funding. McKenna said more money is needed to create “a broader variety of class offerings.” Barna said advanced programs in anatomy and the sciences, which are not offered by Crestwood, would have been helpful for 2018 seniors who have ambitions of entering the medical field.

State Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, noted his fellow Democrats in the House lack the voting power to effect change.

“We understand your need for more money … but we are the minority party in the Legislature,” Mullery said.

Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, agreed with the push for citizens to become more active.

“The power is with the voters,” he said. “You need to organize and apply pressure (to the Legislature).”


By Tom Huntington

For Times Leader