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HERMITAGE Rendell explains school funding plan at campaign stop



Published: Wed, May 1, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The gubernatorial candidate wants to borrow money to foster economic development programs.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

HERMITAGE, Pa. -- Ed Rendell has a plan to bring state funding of public education back to the 50 percent mark, but it requires raising the state tax on cigarettes and allowing slot machines at the state's five race tracks.

His plan would result in a reduction in local property taxes, he added.

Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia, is a Democrat gubernatorial candidate. He made a campaign stop Tuesday at the Hickory VFW to discuss his plans.

If elected, Rendell said he will call a special session of the state Legislature in January and won't let it leave until the state changes the way it funds education.

Risks

There are risks to tax reform, but "the education of our children is worth those risks," he said.

The state was picking up 55 percent of public education costs in the 1970s but that ratio has dropped to 35 percent this year, he said.

Rendell proposes increasing the state tax on cigarettes from 31 to 62 cents per pack, a move estimated to raise $300 million a year. Putting 3,000 slot machines into the state's five racetracks would generate an additional $500 million a year, he added, saying all that money would be channeled into education.

For local school districts to get those funds, however, they would have to agree to a dollar-for-dollar reduction in their local property taxes. He estimated that taxpayers could see their annual school tax bill cut between 25 percent and 40 percent.

Acknowledging that there will be some opposition to his plan to bring in slot machines, Rendell said it's evident that Pennsylvanians are gambling now but just going into neighboring states to do it.

Economic development

He said Pennsylvania also needs to spend more money on economic development. He wants to borrow money through economic development bonds to do it.

"We are losing our young people. We can't let that happen," he said, stressing the importance of providing an attractive job market.

He vowed that, within the first six months of his administration, he will borrow money to foster economic development, clean up blighted areas, and provide support for the development of small business.

"I am going to invest in growth," Rendell said, noting that $1.5 billion in combined state and federal funds should generate between $4 billion and $6 billion in economic development.

Health care

Rendell also touched on his proposal for health-care reform, suggesting that the state lottery, which funds many senior programs, needs to be made more attractive to ticket buyers to boost revenue.

He also proposes using Pennsylvania's share of the tobacco case settlement to help cover some of the 1.2 million Pennsylvanians who lack even basic health care insurance.

Rendell proposes that the state should negotiate bulk purchases of drugs from pharmaceutical companies, thereby lowering the cost to consumers.




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