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The overwhelming voter rejection of a tax-shifting proposal that would hike either the personal or earned income tax to perhaps lower residential property taxes, came as no surprise to a Pennsylvania School Boards Association official.
Thomas J. Gentzel, association executive director, said Wednesday that the solution to financing public education should be addressed by the governor and Legislature, not at the local level.
"From the very beginning of the school property tax debate, PSBA has offered what the association believes is a sound plan for addressing the over-reliance on school property taxes to fund public education," he said. "High property taxes are a symptom of a larger problem, namely a broken system of financing public education.
"PSBA believes that a workable solution to local tax reform requires the Legislature and the governor to revamp local tax systems, reduce the costs to school districts of providing a public education and increase the level of state funding to adequately meet the needs of all students."
Passed by the state Legislature last year, Act 1 required 498 of the 501 school districts across the commonwealth to impanel a tax study commission that would determine if a personal income tax or earned income tax would be imposed and the amount of the increase. School boards were permitted to approve the recommendation or submit their own proposal to the voters.
If approved by the voters, property taxes would be reduced for those who met certain income criteria and owned property that had been registered as a homestead exemption.
According to unofficial results posted by the state department, only four school districts - Bedford Area and Everett Area school districts in Bedford County, Bristol Borough in Bucks County and Reading School District in Berks County approved the tax shift proposition.
Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Scranton school districts were exempt from taking part in the mandate.
Chuck Ardo, spokesman for Gov. Ed Rendell, said Wednesday that the refusal of voters to sign on to the proposal was a result of confusion.
"The governor believes that voters ought to have local control over the mix of taxes that support their schools," said Ardo. "The dollar-for-dollar exchange (under the tax shifts) was straightforward.
"Unfortunately, the interpretation, by the time it got to the voters, seemed to be much more complicated."
Locally, all school districts rejected the tax shift proposal that, if approved, would increase the earned income tax rate.
In Fayette County, Albert Gallatin Area School District voters nixed the proposal by a 2,370 to 1,168-vote margin, according to unofficial results. If approved, the earned income rate would have been increased from .5 to .9 percent.
Belle Vernon Area School District residents rejected the proposed 1 percent earned income tax hike by a 926 to 290-vote margin while Brownsville Area School District voters said no to a .6 percent earned income tax increase by a 1,689 to 852 vote margin, according to unofficial results.
By a nearly 3-to-1-vote margin, Connellsville Area School District voters rejected a .5 percent earned income tax rate hike. With all precincts supplying unofficial results, 3,695 voters said no while 1,395 voters supported the initiative.
By a similar vote margin, Frazier School District also nixed a .5 percent increase to the in-place one-half percent earned income tax rate. According to unofficial results 352 voters cast ballots in support of the increase with 910 casting dissenting ballots.
Voters in the Laurel Highlands School District, by a 2,669 to 1,261 vote margin said no to a .8-percent earned income tax rate hike, while Uniontown Area School Districts rejected an additional .4 percent earned income tax to be added to the .5 percent rate already collected by the district by a 2,752 to 1,255 vote margin, in unofficial results.
The results were similar in the neighboring school districts located in Greene and Washington counties.
The Carmichaels Area School District voters, by a 994 to 622 vote margin, nixed a proposed .5 percent earned income tax hike while Central Greene School District residents said no to a .47 percent hike by a 1,833 to 1,197-vote margin, according to unofficial primary election results.
The Jefferson-Morgan School District voters did not support the tax study commission and board approved .6 percent earned income tax increase, which now stands at .5 percent. Of the precincts supplying unofficial results, 387 voters supported the measure with 615 casting dissenting votes.
By a 625 to a 416-vote margin, Southeastern Greene District voters said no to an additional .46 percent earned income tax increase to the in-place .5 percent rate, according to unofficial results.
Voters in both Bethlehem-Center and California Area school districts rejected a .5 percent tax increase to their respective .4 and .5 percent rates now in effect. By more than a 2-to-1-vote margin - 1,527 to 697 - Bethlehem-Center residents said no, while 1,238 voters in the California district nixed the proposal and 558 voters supported the action, according to unofficial results.
Gentzel, meanwhile, said that the vote indicated that school boards did their jobs in explaining the proposition to residents.
"Quite clearly, Pennsylvania residents have rejected the notion that property taxes can be lowered by shifting the burden to income taxes," he said. "These results reaffirm that school boards were listening to their constituents and correctly reflected their residents' input when similar tax shift plans were rejected."
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