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Wolf vetoes educational tax credit program expansion

In this file photo Peoples Security Bank presents the State Theatre Center for the Arts in Easton with a donation through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program. (Photo submitted) –

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed a bill to expand a tax-credit program popular with many corporations.

Wolf has vetoed House Bill 800, a measure that would have expanded the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit, which gives corporations tax credit for donating funds for pre-k education, scholarships and nonprofit educational improvement organizations, including private and parochial schools.

The bill would have increased the annual tax credits available through the program from the current $110 million to $210 million, with automatic increases built in.

It would also increase the income limit for families of scholarship recipients from $85,000 to $95,000.

In a release, Wolf argued that the expansion of the program, which benefits private educational institutions but not public schools, isn’t warranted at a time when public schools are in desperate need of more funding.

“We have public schools that are structurally deteriorating, contaminated by lead, and staffed by teachers who are not appropriately paid and overstretched in their responsibilities. Tackling these challenges, and others, should be our collective priority,” Wolf stated.

Wolf also questioned whether the state could afford to expand the program.

“According to the Department of Revenue, the amount of General Fund revenue that will be lost over the next five years on account of this bill is over $650 million. This is a staggering sum in a relatively short period of time without a single dedicated revenue source,” Wolf said.

A number of organizations expressed their disappointment with the veto including the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which operates the Family Choice Scholarship Program, an EITC-approved scholarship organizations, and The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.

Both organizations said the EITC has helped families send their children to the schools of their choice.

“We are disappointed with the governor’s decision to veto a long overdue expansion of Pennsylvania’s important EITC program, given that so many families are on a waiting list to receive help,” said Eric Failing, executive director of the Catholic Conference. “EITC provides parents with the opportunity to choose schools they believe are best for their families.”

The Family Institute said it helps 80 families with scholarships per year, but has to turn down more than 250.

“We had hoped that House Bill 800 would assist us in being able to help more low-income families,” said Allison Rishel, Family Choice Scholarship program coordinator. “Sadly, now that won’t be the case.”

Writer Stacy Wescoe has her finger on the pulse of the business community in the Greater Lehigh Valley and keeps you up-to-date with technology and trends, plus what coworkers and competitors are talking about around the water cooler — and on social media. She can be reached at stacyw@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4104. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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