Democrats: 'No new taxes' a myth in Pa. budget

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Gov. Tom Corbett promised "no new taxes," and with Pennsylvania's new state budget, he said he delivered, but Democrats said not so fast. They took their message to Bethlehem on Monday.

When Corbett signed the new budget late Saturday night, he hailed it as a victory for taxpayers.

"I'm pleased to able to sign a balanced state budget -- on time -- and with no new taxes," he said.

But at a news conference outside Liberty High School on Monday, Democrats fired back. With state school funding nearly flat this year, they insisted local property tax hikes will make up the loss.

"When the governor walks around and says he hasn't raised your taxes, in fact, he has," said Mayor John Callahan, D-Bethlehem.

"[This] is pretty much the governor trying to … push forward his no-tax rhetoric, but instead, he's increasing taxes by making us do it for him," said Basilio Bonilla, a member of the Bethlehem Area School Board.

Two weeks ago, Bethlehem schools raised taxes nearly 5% -- partly due to soaring pension payments the district has to make to Harrisburg.

But the new budget does include 43% more money to defray pension costs. Plus, it keeps $100 million in block grants to help pay for kindergarten. Corbett originally wanted to cut the program.

"More than $11 billion -- 40% of the more than $27 billion in this entire budget -- goes toward education," said Corbett.

State-related universities and community colleges receive no new money after major cuts last year.

"Tuition for state schools throughout the commonwealth of Pennsylvania are going to continue to rise dramatically," said Callahan, "and make it harder and harder for the middle class to send their kids to college."

Not true, said the governor.

"We've restored funding to those institutions to the same level as last year," he said. "In return, these schools have committed to keeping tuition as low as possible."

In fact, most state universities and state-related schools agreed to cap tuition increases to the inflation rate this year in exchange for no further funding cuts from Harrisburg. Penn State's president has proposed a 2.9% increase this year, the lowest since 1967.

The new budget also means Pennsylvania taxpayers will have a better idea what their school leaders are getting paid and what perks they're getting, partly because of a controversy in Allentown School District.

School superintendents' contracts will now be public record.

Last year, Allentown schools faced criticism after controversial superintendent Gerald Zahorchak stepped down just one year into a five-year deal.

Zahorchak's contract guaranteed him a $50,000 buyout. The district also created a nearly $200,000 consulting job for Zahorchak.

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