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Counties pinpoint correct priorities for state solutions

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania recently met to devise five priorities the organization hopes to address.

We have to give them credit — they’ve got the list about right. The organization will be working to address property tax reform, increased funding for mental health services, a solution to the emergency medical services crisis, expansion of rural broadband and funding for adult probation.

Finding solutions to these problems, however, will be a lot more difficult than coming up with the list.

This much we know. These issues are pretty much statewide realities. So the task force of the CCAP, which includes Lycoming County Commissioner Tony Mussare, might want to look hard at state government for some of the solutions.

People have been talking for years about the need for tax reform that reduces the reliance of schools and local governments on property taxes. But the situation is nearing crisis stage. Williamsport property owners — many on fixed incomes — are paying several thousand dollars a year in property taxes while city government and the local school district struggle to fund the services they are bound to provide.

Meanwhile, state gambling revenue from commercial casinos, bolstered by the aggressive expansion of online gambling, sports betting and video gambling terminals at truck stops, rose by $146 million, or 4.5 percent, in 2019 over 2018. A staggering total of $3.4 billion was collected. Pennsylvania is behind only Nevada in gross revenues from gambling and is the No. 1 state in the nation when it comes to tax revenue from the casino industry.

With the way online sports sites and fantasy sports are attracting customers, these revenues will only keep increasing in the future. While we have concerns about gambling addiction, the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to state reliance on gambling revenues.

Perhaps the state should revisit how those revenues are used.

Lottery revenues for decades have been allocated to senior citizens programs and services.

Perhaps gambling industry revenues should be funneled to cities, based on population and on a percentage basis, and property tax levies reduced in a corresponding amount.

Or perhaps those revenues could be funneled to counties to fund mental health services — a clear statewide need. Or rural broadband expansion. Or emergency medical services. Or adult probation.

Governments at all levels need to become better stewards of taxpayer monies and use those revenues to meet the most practical and dire needs first. When there is a growing revenue source, such as the gambling industry, attention needs to be given to make sure it is used to the best advantage.

The CCAP’s list would be a good place to start.

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