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A taxing problem put before Rep. Boyd

Funding disparity Jobs and fairness Intelligencer Journal - Lancaster, PA By Jeff Hawkes February 27, 2007 State Rep. Scott Boyd's going to think I'm picking on him. Last year, I was on his case for pushing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Pennsylvania. Why he wants to tell law-abiding, tax-paying committed couples they are not welcome here escapes me. Now I'm scratching my head over why the third-term legislator from Lampeter objects to amending the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow for a progressive income tax. Pennsylvania has a flat tax rate of 3.07 percent on personal income. The tax is not imposed on certain low-income taxpayers - a single parent of two, for example, earning less than $25,500. If that parent gets a raise to $26,000, he or she pays state income taxes at the same rate as someone making $260,000. The flat income tax combined with a 6-percent sales tax puts Pennsylvania in league with Texas and Alabama as states with the most regressive tax systems. According to Progressive States Network, based in New York, the poorest 20 percent of Pennsylvania taxpayers pay 11.4 percent of their income in state taxes. Pennsylvania's wealthiest taxpayers pay 4.8 percent in state taxes. A shift to a progressive, or graduated, income tax - taxing higher levels of income at higher rates - would bring balance to the system. But the state constitution's uniform tax clause would have to be amended, something Boyd opposed at a forum last week on school finances. School funding and a progressive tax are related topics. That's because Pennsylvania lacks fairness in how it pays for education. Reliance on property taxes results in school districts with thriving economies and well-to-do neighborhoods spending double per pupil what districts with shuttered factories and impoverished towns can afford. Speaking at the forum, Ron Cowell, a former legislator who advocates for improvements to Pennsylvania's school system, described the state's funding system as not fair, adequate, accountable or predictable. "We really have a nonsystem that violates every principle of a sound statewide school funding system," he said. "In many states, on its face, our system would be unconstitutional." But this is Pennsylvania, where the state Supreme Court thinks unfair school funding is an issue for legislators, not justices, to resolve. So advocates turn to legislators like Boyd for action. At the forum, Boyd spoke of wanting the best possible educational opportunities for children, regardless of where they live. Boyd, to his credit, voted for a $650,000 "costing-out" study, now under way, to determine objectively what funding would give all students an opportunity to meet state learning standards. But once the study shows how much money is needed, Boyd is not interested in switching to the fairest tax. Why not? Boyd said a progressive income tax would impose a burden on shareholders of small businesses that get permission to pay the personal income tax instead of higher corporate taxes. Make shareholders of small businesses pay more in income taxes, Boyd said, and Pennsylvania will lose jobs. While I agree saving jobs is important, it doesn't justify a tax burden on low wage-earners. What's needed is comprehensive tax reform that imposes fair burdens while not hurting the economy. Under a progressive tax, those years when a small-business person struggles, he or she pays less; when business booms, they pay more. Furthermore, higher taxes on lofty incomes might allow Pennsylvania to cut corporate taxes. At the forum Boyd cited Proverbs: "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Show some vision, Scott.