The Really Devastating Thing Would Be a Tax Increase

My wife and I returned to Pennsylvania last year, and boy, are we feeling welcome right now.  The warm fuzzies really took over earlier today when my wife called to tell me she had just written what we, at least, consider a fat check to cover a tax we didn’t even realize we’d been paying—but of which we apparently hadn’t paid enough.  This little surprise came courtesy of Lower Paxton Township, where we lived for just four months, and its two percent Earned Income Tax.  I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised, since the Keystone State has the tenth-highest state and local tax burden in the country, according to the Tax Foundation.  No wonder we were two of the few people in 2010 whose moving van entered, not left, Pennsylvania.

I say this to place into context Penn State President Graham Spanier’s latest pounding of the bully pulpit, which the Associated Press has written up.  President Spanier has said, yet again, that Penn State is looking at closing branch campuses due to Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget and that such a step would be “devastating.”  He also said he “just never imagined that Penn State would be asked to take a cut at the level we have,” even though governors from both parties in other states, such as California and Washington, have sought similar cuts.

Of course, as CF’s Elizabeth Stelle has blogged previously, the Tribune-Review performed a damning analysis (PDF) of the branch campuses that showed alarming declines in enrollment at several of them.  While Penn State administrators like to point out that enrollment is up in the aggregate, the Greater Allegheny, New Kensington, Shenango, and Wilkes-Barre campuses all saw double-digit declines over the past eight years—and each has less than 1,000 students.

I’ve got a BA in history, not an MBA, but it doesn’t take much to know that any business that was seeing that kind of response from customers would start rethinking the locations of its franchises.  If Penn State does the same with its branch campuses, that’s just common sense.  What would really be devastating—to all taxpayers, not just a few communities—would be to raise taxes in a state already awash in them to save university administrators from a long-overdue reckoning.