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School spending: The exemption ruse

Pennsylvania's so-called restrictions on school districts' tax hikes are a sad, cruel joke on taxpayers, who certainly aren't laughing.

The state Department of Education has OK'd 199 districts hiking property taxes for 2012-13 without seeking voters' approval.

It granted them exemptions from a 2006 law that requires referendums for tax hikes above a state-set level. And it did so despite 10 previously "valid" exemption reasons being reduced to three for 2012-13 -- construction debt, special education and pension costs.

Never mind that any overall shortfall can be portrayed as a threat to one of those three items because money's fungible, as the Allegheny Institute's Jake Haulk points out. Or that self-serving, taxpayer-shafting interests that have long driven public education's gravy train continue their predictable "draconian cuts" rhetoric, as the Commonwealth Foundation notes.

What's most outrageously puzzling is that a state government controlled by Republicans allows this "exemptions" charade to go on. Where's the legislation to protect taxpayers -- who elected them -- by ending it?

On school taxes, Republicans in Harrisburg must practice what they preach -- and ensure that state education officials do, too.

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