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School district tax options under review

| Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, 3:51 a.m.

School districts could jettison some or all of their property tax in favor of another local tax under a bill passed on Wednesday in the state House.

House members chose that option after voting on Tuesday to reject a replacement of all school property taxes with increased state income and sales taxes.

By 149-46, House Bill 1189 was sent to the Senate.

It offers school districts the option of replacing real estate levies with an earned income tax, business privilege tax, mercantile tax or a combination of the three.

“In areas where the local populace is demanding elimination, it eliminates,” said HB 1189's prime sponsor, Rep. Seth Grove, R-York County. “In areas where the local populous wants reductions, it reduces. In areas that want to be left alone, it allows them to keep the status quo.”

But first, the House rejected an amendment to replace school real estate levies with hikes in the state's personal income tax from 3.08 to 4.34 percent and the sales tax from 6 to 7 percent, or from 7 to 8 percent in Allegheny and Philadelphia counties.

That concept is contained in House Bill 76, which remains mired in committee, so its prime sponsor, Rep. James Cox, R-Berks County, tried to amend HB 1189 with the terms of HB 76.

“I don't understand it,” Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, said about the 59-138 rejection, which included no votes by Rep. Marc Gergely, D-White Oak, and other co-sponsors of HB 76.

Most area House members, Democrat and Republican, voted against Cox's amendment. HB 76 co-sponsor Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg, was not present for the vote.

Gergely also is a co-sponsor of HB 1189, as are Reps. George Dunbar, R-Penn Township, and Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville.

Cox said he was disappointed but not surprised by the vote on HB 76 as an amendment.

“Now we have a clear tally of who supports the Property Tax Independence Act,” Cox said. Saccone refers to it as the Property Tax Elimination Act.

Saccone and all other area lawmakers were in the majority in passing HB 1189 on Wednesday.

“I don't like it,” Saccone said. “I couldn't not vote for a property tax reform bill even though I don't think this bill is anywhere near as good as House Bill 76.”

In the Senate, though it has remained in committee, SB 76 has bi-partisan backing from the chairmen of the Urban Affairs & Housing Committee, Republican David Argall of Schuylkill County and Democrat James Brewster of McKeesport.

On Thursday Brewster said efforts would continue to push SB 76 through that chamber.

“If the Senate passes it, it would put pressure on the House,” Saccone said.

Argall and Brewster have 21 co-sponsors in the 50-member chamber, including Republican Kim Ward of Hempfield Township and Democrat Timothy Solobay of Canonsburg.

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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