Levdansky hopes to use Obama plan to cap property taxes in state

  By PATRICK CLOONAN Daily News StafWriter

  State House Finance Chairman David K. Levdansky, D-Forward Township , again is trying to cap property taxes. This time, he hopes to use President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, now headed for a U.S. House-Senate conference committee after the Senate approved it, 61-37. Even without it, however, he said Tuesday that Gov. Ed Rendel’s proposed increase in state funds could be a window to freeze taxes on homeowners. The $300 milion increase Rendelproposed last week would be the second in a six-year plan for increased school subsidies. “The governor is proposing a 5.7 percent increase,” Levdansky said. “If we’re increasing state funding
 for school districts, we want school districts to hold the line on property taxes.” The Forward Township Democrat said he plans “within the next couple of weeks” to introduce legislation that would freeze school property taxes in Pennsylvania for the next two fiscal years. “It’s always nice to be the beneficiary of new sources of revenue to fund school district programs and projects, but unless the funding is permanent, it sets the stage for a new higher level of school district expenditures in the future,” Levdansky said. “My proposal is intended to prevent local school districts from establishing that higher plateau during a period when the federal government is only helping them to maintain current levels of expenditures.” “I believe the anticipated federal aid is an attempt to avoid the need for local school districts to take additional tax revenue from the taxpay
 ers during a time of fiscal stress,” Levdansky said. However, as state Senate Appropriations Minority Chairman Jay Costa Jr., D-Forest Hils, pointed out Monday, the compromise approved in the U.S. Senate cut $40 bilion for states facing budget deficits,



as welas funds for school construction. “Aid to states, which wilbe spent almost immediately on human services and job creation, is one of the most effective ways that Congress can pump money into the national economy quickly,” Costa said. Levdansky said a two-year moratorium on school district property taxes would serve as the next step in a continued effort by the General Assembly to implement meaningful and substantial reduction of such taxes. In the previous legislative session, the Forward Township Democrat introduced legislation to freeze mil
 age rates set for this fiscal year. House Bil 1600 would have replaced $1.5 bilion in school funds with a sales tax increase from 6 to 6.5 percent and a state income tax hike from 3.07 to 3.29 percent. It died in the House Appropriations Committee. Levdansky also sought to amend the state constitution to eliminate school property taxes for homeowners. House Bil 1947, which would amend the state’s uniformity clause, required approval in two legislative sessions. It passed the House in January 2008 but died in the Senate Finance Committee. He hoped to bring both ideas back in the future, but noted public concern about shifting tax burdens. “Let’s freeze property taxes first, then we can begin the conversation about how you can reduce property taxes,” the House Finance chairman said.
  Also, Act 1, the law that provides for gaming-fueled rebates to school districts, also alows tax increases within an index set by the state Department of Education. “It is an extraordinarily generous proposal,” Levdansky said. If a district anticipates an increase beyond the index it has to put the proposed increase before voters in a referendum. Localy, most school officials are looking for ways to avoid a tax hike in a fiscal year that begins July 1 for schools as welas state government. Steel Valey has told state officials it wilnot raise taxes more than 1.21 mils. Elizabeth Forward set its limit at 1.31 mils. West Mifflin Area set its limit at 1.2 mils, even though plans to build a middle school require bonds that wilneed 1.35 mils for debt service.

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