Restoring equity in education
Note that though the tax cap makes things worse, it does not create the problem of inequitable funding, only exacerbates it. Moreover, the problem that the tax cap addresses—that people, especially on fixed incomes, are being forced out of their houses by skyrocketing property taxes—is equally real, and also hits the disadvantaged disproportionately hard.
A strategy that could address both problems is simply to stop using property taxes to fund education and start using income tax. Imposed statewide, this would broaden the overall tax base used for education; distributed equitably, it would help ensure that all children in New York had equal opportunities to learn and excel.
This idea is one that has been around for a while now, and is a very tough political sell: as unpopular as property taxes are, income taxes are probably even more so. But the money has to come from somewhere, and income tax looks like a fairer source, and one with a much better chance of delivering that all-American goal, equality of opportunity.
And hard sell or not, some of our elected representatives are out there pushing for just this idea. In New York, Assemblyman Kevin Cahill has authored a bill called the Equity in Education Act (A.447), which would phase out property taxes and phase in income taxes as a means of funding education over a five-year period. And in Pennsylvania, Republican state representative Jim Cox has just introduced the Property Tax Independence Act, which would replace school property tax revenue by an increase in the state’s personal income tax from 3.07% to 4% and raising the sales tax from 6% to 7%.
A.447 has been locked up in committee since 2006; it remains to be seen whether the Pennsylvania bill makes any progress. But maybe it’s time for the electorate to get out and push. At the very least, if we can get these bills onto the floors of their respective houses, we might get a serious conversation going on some workable alternatives to our increasingly untenable system. If you agree, consider calling your state representatives and giving them a nudge.