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McKeesport-based state senator seeks new way to pay for schools

| Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, 4:36 a.m.

State Sen. James Brewster is in the forefront of a renewed effort to eliminate property taxes as a way to pay for public schools.

“The property tax is a big issue,” Brewster, a Democrat from McKeesport, said on Thursday during a tour of the W.D. Mansfield Memorial Bridge rehabilitation project. “It is compounded by the assessment in Allegheny County.”

Brewster, minority chairman of the Senate Urban Affairs & Housing Committee, joined majority chairman Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill County, in supporting Senate Bill 76.

That legislation and state House Bill 76 were referred to the finance committees of their respective chambers on March 14. No action has been taken by either panel.

Both bills allow for:

• School districts to give voters the choice of a personal income tax or an earned income tax.

• A 1.27 percent state tax on personal income that would go toward an Education Stabilization Fund.

• A hike in the sales tax from 6 to 7 percent (7 to 8 in Allegheny and Philadelphia counties).

“It is tax revenue neutral,” according to the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition, an organization dedicated to equitable tax funding of Pennsylvania schools.

The coalition is a self-styled virtual community of thousands of taxpayers from throughout the state who are concerned with school property tax and education finance reform.

“We heard plenty of individuals testify about the need for local tax reform during our hearings on the future of cities,” Brewster said on Aug. 20, when he announced he would renew efforts to pass the Senate bill.

“We have been making tremendous strides toward building legislative support from every corner of the state, including the southwest,” said Argall, who introduced similar legislation in the the General Assembly's 2011-12 session, which had 13 co-sponsors.

This year Argall has 22 co-sponsors, including Brewster, Democrat Timothy Solobay of Canonsburg, and Republican Kim Ward of Hempfield Township.

The House bill was introduced by Rep. James Cox, R-Berks County, with 92 co-sponsors, including Democrats Marc Gergely of White Oak and Bill Kortz of Dravosburg, and Republican Rick Saccone of Elizabeth Township.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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