by Pete Mazzaccaro
As I write this, temperatures around the Philadelphia area are expected to climb into the mid 50s. With a week of weather that will be just as warm, all traces of the nearly-a-foot of snow we got last Thursday should be gone. It truly feels as if we’re past the winter of our discontent and into the promise of a new spring.
There’s a lot of promise in Pennsylvania this season with a budget proposal by newly minted Governor Tom Wolf that promises some pretty significant changes to the way things have been for what feels like an awful long time.
Especially if you’re in the business of education.
One of the most significant changes that could happen if Wolf’s plan is adopted would be to the state’s school districts. Chronically underfunded and a burden to local property owners, Wolf would add $1 billion in education funding. That additional funding would send about $140 million to Philadelphia schools, wiping out the district’s $80 million shortfall. The district might even be able to hire librarians and guidance counselors again.
Local school districts will not be the only educational organizations to reap rewards of Wolf’s budget proposal. Higher education will also see its funding restored. Penn State, Temple, the 14 state universities and area community colleges will be able to meet their bottom lines more easily and, one might hope, extend tuition benefits to more students.
The catch, of course, is in how these funding goals will be met. The plan is to increase taxes, which is never a sure bet when a largely Republican State House gets its hands on the details.
Under Wolf’s plan, the state income tax will increase by 20 percent. The state’s sales tax will rise 10 percent – both are hikes Republican lawmakers will not be eager to allow without a fight.
Wolf was smart to include corporate tax breaks in the budget. His plan calls for a cut of the corporate profits tax rate from 9.99 percent to 5.99 percent.
What will state Republicans do? Education funding is very popular across the state – in fact, cuts to education funding by Wolf’s predecessor Tom Corbett likely did more to defeat his reelection bid than anything else.
On the other hand, no one likes new taxes.
It’s hard to imagine Wolf’s budget passing as proposed, but let’s hope that the spirit of that proposal survives.
Wolf’s budget proposal is a step in the right direction on education. Property tax relief and additional funds for school districts will benefit the state’s poorest districts the most. In Philadelphia, even the wage tax would be relaxed by half a percent.
Property taxes are simply not the most equitable way to fund schools. This is a step in the right direction.