Taxing Follies

Taxing Follies

From “The Department of This is Rich”:

The superintendent of the Fox Chapel School District is panning a proposal to shift school funding away from property taxes and toward sales and income taxes.

As the Post-Gazette reports, Gene Freeman calls the tax shift a “money grab” and “a way to break the teachers’ union.”

And a group calling itself the Fox Chapel District Forum says the move would mean a loss of local control and the end of quality public education.

Group president Elizabeth Klamut says her organization is obligated to act in the best interests of children. Such a tax shift would not be, she says.

Well.

The real issue here is that Pennsylvania school districts for far too long have had a free hall pass on jacking up school taxes. It’s a matter of school boards simply voting to do so

Yes, those boards are elected by taxpayers. But it seems that too often the voices of those who elected these boards are ignored when tax-hike time comes ‘round.

Yes, there are limits. But districts routinely are granted waivers by the state to raise taxes in excess of annual increase limits. (Ironically, however, that’s at times to cover the increased contract expenses negotiated by school boards with teacher unions.)

There’s a better way, of course, to check ever-rising school taxes. And that’s by putting school taxes — increases and renewals at the same rates — before the voters.

Critics claim that would jeopardize continuity in school funding; voters (you know, the people who foot the public school bill) will routinely vote down such ballot levies.

But that’s certainly not been the case in neighboring Ohio.

Data from the Ohio School Boards Association show Buckeye State voters approved 85 percent of ballot levies in 2015. And in the period between 2006 and 2015, school tax levies were approved by a majority of Ohioans in all but one year (in 2008).

Approval percentages were 59 percent in 2006; 54 percent in 2007; 45 percent in 2008; 67 percent in 2009; 59 percent in 2010, 2011 and 2013; 73 percent in 2012; and 69 percent 2014.

Back to Gene Freeman.

If he was quoted accurately, and if his quote was presented in context, the Fox Chapel School District has a problem: It suggests he’s more concerned about the teachers union than taxpayers — or, for that matter, students.

From the “Department of Let’s Yet Again Tax Our Way to Prosperity”:

VisitPittsburgh, the city’s tourism agency, once again is pushing for a 1.25 percentage point hotel tax increase (and the ability to increase it by a full 2 percentage points). The impost now stands at 7 percent. That’s on top of a 6 percent state sales tax and the 1 percent Regional Asset District tax.

And as the Tribune-Review puts it, agency boss Craig Davis says the tax increase “could spur tens of millions of dollars in new economic activity.”

Do tell.

VisitPittsburgh wants to use some of the new money — about $1.4 million out of $4.6 million — to create a brand new bureaucracy — the Pittsburgh Sports Commission — in hopes of attracting more major sporting events to the region.

This, we are told, would free up VisitPittsburgh to better concentrate of its mission of attracting conventions to town. And, of course, the new commission would have its own staff and board of directors.

Can you say “featherbedding,” class?

VisitPittsburgh already is known for its salary excesses; rest assured this new Pittsburgh Sports Commission would be no different.

VisitPittsburgh also is known for something else: Rattling off fantastical “multiplier effects” to justify spending taxpayer dollars; the new commission surely would be a chip off the old, and inflated, block.

The key to attracting businesses and events to Pittsburgh is to make the cost the lowest possible for those you’re inviting. Attempting to yet again tax our way to prosperity shows just how out of touch those “leading” Pittsburgh remain.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).