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Act 1: Stop the school tax charade

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Monday, May 5, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Act 1 became the law of the commonwealth with great fanfare in 2006. It was viewed as the long-overdue remedy to stop Pennsylvania's nearly 500 school districts from raising and raising (and raising) taxes, oftentimes far in excess of the inflation rate and without any timely public check.

But the joke continues to be on taxpayers.

The law caps annual school tax increases to the rate of inflation. And if districts want to raise taxes above that rate, they have to place a referendum on the ballot and seek voter approval. But Act 1 also allows a number of exemptions. If approved by the state, taxpayers can be bypassed. Among the exemptions are costs associated with health care, “maintaining revenue,” pensions, school construction and special education.

The joke is that so many of these exemptions routinely are rubber stamped. Yes, some requests are rejected, in part. But the state has proven to be a sympathetic and easy touch. And taxpayers are shafted repeatedly.

To wit, the state has allowed nearly one-third of the commonwealth's school districts to raise taxes for the 2014-15 school year in excess of this year's established inflation index of 2.1 percent. That's 164 districts.

Indeed, the number of exemptions granted has fallen for four consecutive years. But that's cold comfort for taxpayers still stung by a poor law.

The only solution to end this continuing charade remains as simple as it is powerful: All public school levies should be put to a public vote and on a regular basis — no ifs, ands, ors or exemptions.

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