The failure of the Pennsylvania Legislature to manage taxpayer money has real consequences, including higher property taxes in the Pottstown, Perkiomen Valley, Pottsgrove and Spring-Ford Area school districts.
Just before the start of the new year, Standard & Poor’s described the emergency, stop-gap $30.3 billion budget signed by Gov. Wolf as “structurally unbalanced” and hinted at a possible rating downgrade in the future. While the state maintains its AA-/Stable general rating, any downgrade would have serious impacts on the state’s 500 school districts.
For example, when school board directors refinance bonds, Pennsylvania’s credit rating impacts the interest paid by the district — and by taxpayers. In October, Moody’s downgraded Pennsylvania’s credit outlook to “negative.”
For all of state Rep. Tom Quigley’s talk about fiscal responsibility, the proposed 2016 budget had a $500 million gap for this fiscal year and a $2 billion gap for fiscal year 2017. S&P stated: “As the state’s longest running budget impasse persists, the question of lawmakers’ political willingness to address fiscal challenges remains.”
The big picture with our state government remains disappointing for this district’s families, veterans, students and wage-earners. As a board director in Spring-Ford, my colleagues and I are blamed for raising your property taxes. Our record shows that we passed balanced budgets with some of the lowest tax increases in district history, and we kept Spring-Ford’s property taxes lower than countywide averages for school districts. We have an obligation to educate all children in the district while keeping property taxes as low as possible.
It is worth noting that the state’s contribution as a percentage of basic instructional expenses has declined from over 50 percent 40 years ago to less than 35 percent today, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. Unfunded mandates from the state create additional strains on district finances. In Spring-Ford, meeting all mandates accounts for approximately 60 to 65 percent of expenses, while revenue from federal and state government sources accounts for only 20 percent of our annual budget.
I believe lawmakers must develop consistent and reliable sources of funding for schools, while recognizing that a majority of money should come from the commonwealth.
Property tax reform still remains out-of-reach in Harrisburg, despite the delays and months of pain inflicted on our communities, including schools, social service agencies and counties. The General Assembly and Quigley have failed us.
Where is the urgency? The House recessed last week and will not return until Jan. 25th.
As a leader on Spring-Ford Area School Board, I worked with in a bipartisan fashion to reduce debt by $125 million and move the district into the top 2 percent in the state. Please join my campaign for uniting families and the community for a stronger Pennsylvania. www.ciresiforpa.com
Ciresi, a resident of Limerick with his wife and son, has served as a Spring-Ford Area School Board director for 10 years. For the last 14 years, he has worked as the Director of Sales and Promotions at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. The 146th District includes the boroughs of Trappe, Royersford and part of Pottstown, as well as Limerick, Lower Pottsgrove and Perkiomen townships.