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False choice, no choice

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By Dimitri Vassilaros
Monday, June 26, 2006

The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute inadvertently offered a false choice to Pennsylvanians about how to lower property taxes. The results of a recent survey indicated there was overwhelming support to raise the state sales tax in order to lower property taxes. However, the Quinnipiac analysis of that finding can easily mislead anyone who accepts the implication that there are only two choices.

Quinnipiac, which regularly conducts surveys of residents in specific states and nationwide about political races and policy issues, quizzed 1,076 commonwealth voters June 13-18. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

By 55-35 percent, voters support raising the state sales tax if it means reducing local property taxes. "Lawmakers may want to take another look at hiking the state sales tax," said Clay F. Richards, assistant director at Quinnipiac. "Voters say they would back such a hike if it meant lower property taxes."

A better question for frustrated Pennsylvanians would be, "What wouldn't voters back if it meant lower property taxes?".

("Trade my firstborn for a 30 percent reduction of my property taxes• Sure! Let me break the news to him. Son, I've got some good news and bad news ... .")

So why did this well-respected polling company offer only two choices?

Mr. Richards sent this statement:

"In previous polls over the past four years we have asked voters about a wide range of options on school financing, including whether they approved of using funds received from slot machine gambling to finance schools and thus lower property tax and/or whether they would be willing to pay higher state income or sales taxes, among others, to achieve property tax relief.

"In this poll we asked only about the sales tax increase since that was at the time the sole specific tax swap proposal under serious consideration in the legislature in this area. As new or alternative proposals arise we will continue to ask in future polls how Pennsylvania voters feel about the kinds of trade-offs necessary to finance property tax relief."

While it's very easy for voters -- and certainly understandable -- to think property taxes are the problem, they really aren't. The vast majority of property taxes fund the 501 government-owned and -operated school districts in Pennsylvania.

Property taxes increase primarily because school district spending increases. When taxes are reduced for one group of citizens, they are increased by that amount for other citizens. Control spending to control taxes.

The solution is not two choices. It's unlimited choices.

Offering scholarships (also known as school choice vouchers) to every family with children will allow them to shop for the best schools for their children. Public schools would be forced to control costs or lose their "customers" to more efficient schools. Competition forces sellers to offer the best they can for the least cost.

The second-best choice is to demand that taxpayers in the respective districts be allowed to vote on budgets and bond issues and not allow school boards to increase budgets for any reason including inflation.

The two choices are not the be-all and end-all. It's simply a good start to stop the never-ending public school spending madness.

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