Gather round the campfire, children, and hear a story to chill the very marrow in your bones!
Let me turn off the lights and point this yellow flashlight beam on my face as I share a tale of terror straight from the Pennsylvania legislature!
Imagine – if you will – a Commonwealth that has invested in public education.
The schools are pristine palaces to learning and self-actualization.
Class sizes are down. We’ve rehired the 25,000 teachers we sacked four years ago to balance the books. All children get arts, music, science labs, foreign languages, sports and extra-curricular activities. Even amenities like school nurses and guidance counselors have been restored.
Children from all walks of life enter those hallowed halls and no matter their family background, parental education, income, race or social class, they leave fully functioning adult citizens ready to lead our state into a brighter future.
Oh the horrendous but!
No one can afford toilet paper!
I know, children! It’s enough to shrink your sphincter with dread!
We’d pay for this educational utopia with an anal Armageddon!
Even the name of our fair state would have to change to Poopsylvania!
Educated urchins would roam the streets hunting for any scrap of angel softness. It would be bathroom chaos from the City of Phila-dookie-ah to the streets of Shittsburgh!
Such is the horror story being told by Pennsylvania Republicans about Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal.
They softly intone the words, “tax hike,” while squeezing the Charmin tightly to their chests.
Fortunately, they’re just talking out of their butts.
Gov. Wolf’s proposed budget WOULD increase education funding. In fact, it would heal the $1 billion in annual education cuts made by the previous administration.
To do so, the freshman governor has proposed an ambitious new tax plan.
Much income would be generated from a proposed severance tax on natural gas extraction, closing tax loopholes and other cost savings. However, the sticking point for fiscal conservatives is a plan to reduce local property taxes while increasing income and sales taxes.
“Tax hike!” they scream tearing out fistfuls of grey hair. But if you’re raising taxes on one thing and reducing them on something else, at the end of the day are you really raising taxes?
In short, homeowner’s property tax bills will go down, but grocery bills will go up.
Some consumer analysts are projecting toilet paper, for example, to go up a whole six cents on the dollar!
This is where conservatives offer us a Sophie’s Choice: will your kids learn how to read and write or will you get to wipe your butt?
Apparently there is no middle ground.
But this isn’t a matter of opinion. It’s a simple question of math. Would most people save enough from the property tax reduction to come out ahead of the increased sales and income taxes?
The answer? According to the Wolf administration, the poor and middle class will end up paying less, while the rich will end up paying more. The average family would receive a net tax decrease of about 13%.
Tax savings would depend on several factors – income, whether you own or rent your home, which school district you live in, and how much you spend on taxable items each year.
If this seems too complex to you, far right think tanks have simplified the matter to a pure “The Sky is Falling” scenario.
The Heritage Foundation estimates Wolf’s budget would cost families an additional $1,400 a year. However, this estimate is highly contested. No one seems to be able to show where it comes from, how it was calculated or to prove that it truly takes into account the cost savings from reduced property taxes.
It’s an amorphous number, floated in obscurity in great need of being flushed away.
More over, these gloom and doom calculations are clearly politically motivated. A few years ago, Republicans proposed a similar plan, themselves!
That’s right! Conservatives had no problem offsetting property taxes with increased sales taxes when it was the GOP proposing it! However, when almost-the-same-plan comes out of the mouths of Democrats, it’s suddenly a three-ply catastrophe!
Property tax relief has been a major issue for both Democrats and Republicans in the Commonwealth for decades.
Pennsylvania has one of the worst tax codes in the country. Currently, the less income you bring home, the higher percent you pay in taxes.
This is true for taxpayers nationwide, but in the Keystone state we take it to a whole new level.
This is largely due to unequal property taxes. The Commonwealth’s poorest households pay nearly 4% of their total income on their homes, while the wealthiest pay just 1.6%. This is a much larger difference than in most states. Wolf’s new tax plan would address this inequality directly making for a fairer distribution of costs for the average resident.
The problem is even worse for our public schools that are forced to rely far too heavily on property taxes. The Commonwealth only pays 36.1% of the cost of education. This is far below the national average of 45.5%, and ranks 45th in the nation. Wolf’s budget would bring state spending up to 50% – more in line with what the rest of the country invests in its children.
Add to this a funding formula that would ensure poorer schools get a fair distribution of the pie, and you get a whole mess of education equity. A whole mess that Republicans want to wipe away.
It is a sad commentary on our right-leaning legislators that they’re pissing and moaning about putting back the funds this year that they had no problem stripping away four years ago.
After one term of a Republican governor, Pennsylvania is the laughing stock of the country in terms of education. We spend less on our poor students compared to our rich ones than ANY OTHER STATE!
That’s right! When it comes to cheating impoverished kids out of an education, we’re number one!
Nationwide, rich schools already spend on average 15.6% more than high poverty schools. But in Pennsylvania, the difference is 33%!
We are systematically short-changing our neediest children year-after-year, and there are actually people out there who can look at you with a straight face and complain about toilet paper!?
But you know what? Let’s entertain this criticism for a moment.
Let’s say that the Commonwealth Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and a host of other far right think tanks are correct. Wolf’s budget taxes things it shouldn’t.
Does that mean you scrap the whole education funding plan? Or does it mean you find the money elsewhere?
Do we just shrug, clutch the bathroom tissue to our chests and walk away? Or do we make education a statewide priority?
Even Wolf’s budget reduces taxes for corporations and big business. Perhaps we could generate some revenue there instead of in the toiletry aisle.
It’s funny how you never hear that offered as a solution.
The reason? They don’t give a shit about poor kids. Even if they had reams of toilet paper!
So the next time you hear someone try to sell you on this bogus bathroom Catch 22 – turn up your nose.
It’s not a question of toilet paper or education.
It’s not a question of the butt or the brain.
It’s a question of conscience.
NOTE: This article also appeared in the Badass Teachers Association blog.