When is a sinkhole a firm plot of land?
When Governor Corbett shares his view of the education-funding landscape.
Corbett tells us his current state budget proposal delivers, “a record amount of state funding into basic education” (a healthy landscape). The reality, however, is that Corbett’s budget creates a $250 million sinkhole in education spending.
Why such different pictures? Governor Corbett wants us to look at only the “basic education” line in his budget, which indeed shows record high spending (see table below). Now, look at all those $0s beneath that basic education line–therein lies the sinkhole.
Unfortunately, the basic education dollars do not support many of the costs needed to maintain excellent schools. Things like busing. And school buildings. And improvement to science education. When you look at the bottom line, Corbett’s proposed education budget represents more than $250 million in cuts to public education compared with five years ago.
What’s worse, many of the things the state has stopped paying for are required by law, which means local school districts must fund them. The proposed state budget thus effectively transfers many of the costs of education away from state taxes onto local property taxes. As I’ve written about before, this is is unfair to local taxpayers—particularly seniors and others on fixed incomes who in some cases are taxed out of their lifelong homes.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
There are alternative sources of state revenue that Governor Corbett flatly refuses to pursue. For example, Pennsylvania is the only major oil- and gas-producing state that does not tax the resources private corporations extract from oil and natural gas wells (known as a severance tax). If the state implemented even the modest severance tax adopted in Texas– a decidedly pro-business state in which big energy companies also have much influence– individual Pennsylvania taxpayers could receive $246 million in tax relief.
Not surprisingly, most Pennsylvania citizens support this kind of tax reform. But until such reform is a reality, our education funding will remain hamstrung by ideological arguments in Harrisburg that pretend sinkholes are firm plots of land.