Yet again, Pennsylvania lawmakers are proposing to shift the burden of education funding from homeowners to grocery shoppers.
Funding education primarily with property taxes is a serious problem. Homeowners with mortgages might not notice it since the property tax is generally included in the mortgage payment, but people who own their homes outright get an annual bill for thousands of dollars to be paid all at once. Generally, these are longtime homeowners, since a typical mortgage lasts 30 years. They might find that the property tax is based on an assessed property value that is far more than it was when they bought the house.
It’s a serious problem and Pennsylvania lawmakers are wise to look for alternatives. But Senate Bill 76 is the wrong way to go about it. The bill would not reduce taxes at all, but would instead shift the burden to a larger personal income tax and a higher sales tax that would expand the tax to clothing over $50 and most grocery items.
Sen. Mike Folmer attempts to justify this by noting that it exempts items in the Women, Infants and Children food list, which he describes as “fruits and vegetables, milk, cheese, yogurt, juices, infant food, whole wheat breads and grains, breakfast cereals, peanut butter and eggs.” He says what would be taxed “would include foods with little nutritional value: sodas, fruit and sports drinks, cheese spreads, and foods with added sugars, fats, salt or oils.”
Mr. Folmer’s description is grossly misleading. Although it is true that the WIC food list includes the types of foods he lists, it does not include all of them. Yogurt, for example, is allowed in the WIC program only when purchased in a 32-ounce container. Want to buy single-serve containers to pack with your lunch? You’ll be taxed.
Want to buy milk? It had better be a half-gallon or gallon container. And don’t think about getting milk with added calcium, protein or vitamin C – that’s not covered by WIC.
Breakfast cereal? Be sure it’s one of the brands listed in the WIC book. Make sure it’s in 12-ounce packages or larger – and make sure your purchase adds up to 36 ounces or less.
Want to shop organic? In most cases, you’ll be taxed – there are only a few cases where organic products are covered by the WIC program.
The rules for the WIC program in Pennsylvania are laid out in a 24-page booklet. If Senate Bill 76 were to become law, our trips to the supermarket would become as complex as filing a tax return, except we’d have to do it every week instead of once a year.
Some variant of this proposal has been introduced in every session of the Pennsylvania Legislature for many years. Every time, it goes nowhere. It’s often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The proponents of Senate Bill 76 would be wise to try another approach. Shifting the tax burden entirely to income tax would make a lot more sense. But no matter what, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
The preceding editorial is the opinion of The Elizabethtown Advocate. Other opinions on this page are those of individual contributors. The Advocate aims to give its readers a wide variety of opinions.