Daily Must Reads: Teacher Layoffs in Reading, Reining in Sales Tax Windfall and More on Payday Lending

While Mark Price takes some time off, I’ll be one of the Third and State bloggers filling in for him with Morning Must Reads. I know, it’s nearly 3:30 p.m., but better late than never.

To start things off, The Huffington Post has a look at what teacher layoffs in Reading mean for students in a city that is home to the largest share of residents living in poverty of any American city.

Eighth-grader Selena Karner lined up in her Reading, Pa., middle school auditorium last week to receive an award for language arts. But during what would normally be a joyous moment for her teachers, educators were crying in the audience. Many were absent.

Teachers were less than joyous for the awards ceremony because 110 of them received pink slips earlier that day, placing them on unpaid leave until further notice. In addition, they learned 60 retiring teachers would not be replaced. The schools of America's poorest city had run out of cash and cleaving 13 percent of the teachers from the payroll was just the beginning.

Reading will lose pre-kindergarten entirely next year. Special courses in industrial arts will be curtailed. Selena's mom, Malissa Karner, said she expects her children's classes to grow to 40 or 50 students because of the shortage of space and personnel.

Meanwhile, the Reading School District is sending out more layoff notices — this time to teaching aides and secretaries.

One of the challenges facing Reading and many other school districts is deep state funding cuts. So you would think lawmakers would be on board with Governor Tom Corbett's proposal to cap a “vender discount” that retailers get for collecting and submitting sales tax to the state on time. The Scranton Times-Tribune makes the case for this reform.

Back when you bought hardware at the local hardware store, prescriptions at the neighborhood pharmacy and clothes at a local shop, it made sense for the state government to reward those merchants for collecting the state sales tax and turning over the money regularly, on time.

The process was labor-intensive and imposed significant costs on small retailers, who kept handwritten books.

Now, of course, the process is automated for almost all retailers, especially for the big-box hardware, electronics and general merchandise retailers that have replaced the corner store.

Yet the commonwealth continues to allow vendors to keep 1 percent of the sales taxes they collect if they turn over the money on schedule. …

More than $1 million each [from the vendor discount] will go to just five companies 
 Walmart alone will retain up to $3.1 million  and another 11 will keep $500,000 or more each. To keep $500,000, a company would have to have more than $833 million in taxable sales.

Among all retailers, however, most are small. About 74 percent will retain $50 or less.

There is no reason to continue paying massive retailers to collect taxes they are required by law to collect, especially since the heavy lifting of doing so has been taken over by automated systems.

Finally, the Bucks County Courier Times joins a growing chorus of newspaper editorial boards to oppose legislation that would reintroduce predatory payday lending to Pennsylvania

Indeed, the loans prey upon poor-credit-risk individuals already facing immediate financial hardship, often locking them into a long-term cycle of debt in which the loan must be continually renewed while fees continue to pile up. Economists from the Keystone Research Center characterize the bill as “bankruptcy by design.” Mark Price of KRC said the bill “legalizes a form of predatory lending ...”

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