PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It almost doesn’t matter where you live in Pennsylvania — your school property taxes are likely to go up next year.
“Absolutely. There is no other way out of it,” Jim Buckheit, executive director of the PA Association of School Administrators, told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Monday.
“School districts are going to have to raise taxes for the foreseeable future,” said Buckheit.
In short, say school officials, there’s a pension mess that Harrisburg is ignoring.
The Public School Employees Retirement System – PSERS — which oversees the pension system for school administrators, teachers and staff, says school district contributions must go up to keep the system solvent.
And the increases are not just a little.
Five years ago (2009-2010), school districts paid 4.23 percent of their payroll to PSERS.
This coming school year (2014-2015), it jumps to 21.40 percent.
In five more years (2019-2020), districts will have to pay 32.08 percent of their payroll to PSERS.
While the state refunds half of that contribution, it takes a big toll on school districts, forcing cutbacks in programs and layoffs.
And the most likely remedy?
“School districts will have to increase local property taxes to cover that increased rate,” adds Buckheit.
While state law caps property tax hikes at the inflation rate, there is an exception or waiver for pensions.
“School districts across Pennsylvania have asked for the waiver,” Gov. Tom Corbett told a group of Boilermakers on Monday.
Campaigning in Pittsburgh, Corbett says he’s making this is a key issue in his campaign for re-election.
“If you talk to the average homeowner when they’re paying more in taxes each year to help pay for pensions, they understand that it’s affecting them in their property tax,” said the governor
“There are 161 school districts in Pennsylvania, 13 in this county, that are raising property taxes because of the pension system.”
In a website campaign ad, Corbett accuses his Democratic opponent Tom Wolf of downplaying the pension situation.
The Corbett ad uses sound bites of Wolf saying, “We don’t have a crisis here, and it’s really not a pension issue.”
“This is not a pension issue. The sky is not falling. It’s not a crisis. It’s not a crisis.”
But Wolf says property tax hikes are a result of Corbett’s one billion dollar cut in education funding.
Corbett says Wolf is just avoiding tough decisions.
“He receives money from the public sector union that is totally opposed to pension reform,” notes Corbett.
Corbett’s campaign details over $1.1 million Wolf has taken from public employee unions, but an anti-Corbett group, Next Gen Climate, is running ads accusing Corbett of doing the same with the energy industry.
Next Gen Climate ad: “Oil and gas companies gave Corbett $1.7 million in campaign contributions, and he gave them a sweetheart deal on taxes.”
“We’re trying to grow energy in Pennsylvania,” Corbett told KDKA political editor Jon Delano. “The contributions don’t affect my decisions. It’s providing jobs for the people of Pennsylvania.”