In the not too distant future, across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as School Districts struggle to deliver balanced budgets, and in order to satisfy the growing needs of the financially strapped public education system, the phrase “Voter referendum” will become commonplace. In the case of school districts, initiatives for voter referendum will happen when district administrators and elected school directors are unable to close gaping holes in their budgets without drastic cuts in programs and personnel, or drastic increases in school property taxes. In layman’s terms, by going to referendum they will be asking the voting public, many of whom are property owners, to impose a school property tax increase in excess of the allowable ACT 1 index upon themselves, or sacrifice coveted education programs and district personnel. While much of the debate occurs in public, the matter is decided behind the curtain of the voting booth. In our district, barring a successful attempt by the legislature to fix the funding problem or a radical change in the culture of public education, we are at best two budget cycles away from going to voter referendum, at worst, one.
How did we get here? And who took us here? The reality, statewide we are in a fiscal crisis. The finger pointing is easy. To the exception of property owners and individual wage earners who together bare the brunt of the burden of funding government run education, I think all culpable parties will, and should, accept some level of responsibility for the current state of affairs. To what extent, is where it gets sticky or even contentious. The crisis is the result of decades of policy, procedure, and practices of the parties who legislate federally and at the state level, and of those who direct, administer, and deliver public education. In short, annual increases in spending by districts, declining revenue from all sources, and numerous miscalculations and mandates by the respective federal and state legislatures, have rendered most of the school districts in Pennsylvania incapable of balancing their budgets, even with the imposition of the “allowable” tax increases under ACT 1 without dipping into their reserve balance.
The end game in most districts, if they have not already done so, is that they will be forced to spend down their reserve funds (which will also have an impact on the district’s bond or credit rating), allocated or not, in order to meet their financial obligations. When the well runs dry, or close to it, there will basically be only two options to resolve the crisis: One, in lieu of being able to raise taxes enough to overcome budget deficits, administrators and elected school boards will have to dramatically cut spending by cutting programs and positions. Or two, go to voter referendum and ask the voters to raise the taxes of property owners in order to save the coveted programs and positions. Or not. Time will tell which way it plays out.
Food for thought: I have often questioned and scorned the notion of voter referendums relative to taxation, however the following article poses a different”constitutional” view that I must reconcile and generally accept:
Yes, you can vote on taxes and laws in a republic!
by Rob Natelson
Despite what you may have heard, allowing people to vote on taxes and other laws is completely consistent with the “republican form of government.”
There is an old, and bogus, claim that to the contrary: that the U.S. Constitution requires states to lock citizens out from direct lawmaking. The argument is that only a system in which the politicians decide everything is permitted by Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution. In that clause, the United States guarantees to each state a “republican Form of Government.” READ THE REST HERE!