Taxing video games won’t be enough to keep Pa. schools safe, bipartisan legislators say

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A suburban Philly lawmaker’s suggestion to furnish school safety dollars by taxing violent video games received a lot of press — with occasional blowback — this week.

Bills from Rep. Chris Quinn, R-Delaware, would slap a 10 percent tax on all games rated M or higher to pay for school safety funding. According to the video game industry, the proposal might be unconstitutional.

Quinn wasn’t expecting as strong a response to his proposal. But the reaction it garnered had “the exact effect I had hoped for” by getting people talking about violent video games and the seeming increase in school shootings, he told the Capital-Star.

Regardless of the merits of the proposal or the studies underneath it, the fiscal problems it hints at are real.

After allocating $60 million for districts to buy metal detectors, put staff through safety drills, or train school resource officers, state lawmakers now feel they’ve established a budget line they need to keep filling even as they enter what looks like a tight budget year.

Last year’s $60 million came by skimming $15 million from the executive branch’s reserves, another $15 million from the judiciary, and $30 million from the General Assembly.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal includes at least $45 million, including $15 million from each branch of government.

“[Wolf] remains fully committed to providing additional resources each year to school safety improvements, which is why he included the same amount from the General Fund and Courts as last year,” administration spokesperson J.J. Abbott said in an email.

Quinn, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, was hopeful that another $60 million could be allocated. But the proposed tax wouldn’t replace that funding. A preliminary analysis estimated it would bring in around $3.5 million each year.

Instead, Quinn said he sees rising violence in American schools and hoped to tax a party he sees as responsible.

“Violent video games are definitely a factor. If that’s a sector that could help support and help offset some of the societal costs by applying and contributing some money, that’s a good thing,” Quinn said. “It’s a win for everybody.”

Studies are split on if violence is rising in American schools, but the backlash from Sandy Hook to Parkland has been enough to push legislation through state houses across the country. Meanwhile, while video games may make kids more aggressive, a link to school shootings is spurious.

Gamer and Rep. Jason Ortitay, R-Allegheny, was doubtful that the tax would make a difference in people’s behavior. He pointed out the fee seemed contradictory when video game publishers receive $500,000 in tax credits from the state each year.

As for addressing school violence, rather than creating another special fund, Ortitay, also a member of Appropriations, said he wanted the state to scrounge for another big one-time investment to prevent the next tragedy from taking place in the Keystone State.

“Instead of making this an annual item in the budget, if we can get it to $100 million, plus the $60 million we [already] put in, that should be pretty close … to fulfilling what the schools need,” he said.

Last year’s funding was given out in grants to the state’s 500 school districts and managed by a special committee at the Pennsylvania Commission of Crime and Delinquency. All but three districts applied and received a minimum grant of $25,000.

Ortitay was the House Republican commision member and pointed to the high demand as reason to revisit the expense.

“With all the applications that came in, I think that was a clear message sent to us here in Harrisburg that hey the school districts need help from us,” Ortitay said. “And if they don’t get it from us, there’ll just raise property taxes.”

Besides funding more school security measures, Rep. Matt Bradford, of Montgomery County and the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said passing stricter gun laws could also help address school shootings. Quinn for his part has introduced a bill to expand background checks and close the gun show loophole.

But as for the tax plan, with an eye on keeping budgets balanced, Bradford said he appreciates “the fact he’s looking at recurring revenue source.”

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