When it comes to property tax independence it is perhaps best to look at this in the words of the Grateful Dead “What a long strange trip it’s been!” Maybe even a little Dylan thrown in to the mix with “The times, they are a changin’”
Some of us have been in this fight for a very long time. Others are new to the fray but regardless of when, we have never seen the momentum that we are now seeing for the cause of Property Tax Independence. It proves that Jefferson was right when he wrote these words in our Declaration of Independence which would be very apropos at this time of the year: “accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” Last year Representative Cox used the Declaration of Independence to illustrate the cause and he was correct in the parallel.
Not all revolutions are violent requiring the taking up of arms in defense of our liberty. Some are fought and won on principle and that has been our strength. NO TAX SHOULD HAVE THE POWER TO LEAVE YOU HOMELESS!
Senator Argall identified the property tax for what it as when he called it a beast and declared that it is time we drive the stake through the heart of this beast and put an end to it once and for all.
With the re-introduction of the bills this year as HB/SB 76 we have found new friends in this battle. We are six months into this legislative year and we have cornered the beast. Those staunch opponents like Mike Turzai have actually admitted that something has to be done. Kerry Benninghoff, who has successfully used his committee chairmanship to keep the bill trapped in the House Finance Committee, admitted that if there is action in the Senate he will have to release the bill in the House. We know what will happen if these bills go to the floor for a vote. What legislator is going to go on the record attacking the homeowners in their district and make that a matter of the records of the general assembly to be used against them in next year’s election cycle?
Now that we cornered the beast the question remains, do we have the wherewithal to do what is necessary to drive that stake through the heart of the school property tax beast and kill it for time and eternity?
To ignore that we have detractors in this fight would be foolish. There are more than enough special interest groups out there that are opposed to us and others that simply cannot make the connection to the importance of this legislation, perhaps because there is no special perks to special or corporate interest. Clean bills are a rarity in today’s legislative process. Even rarer is legislation that is of the people, by the people and for the people. The closer we get to destroying the beast, the harder those who defend the beast will fight. We must be prepared.
It is also important to recognize that what we are proposing is radical. While the premise and purpose of the bill is a simple revenue neutral shift in taxation away from property tax it will force changes in other legislation including the funding formulas to our local school districts at the state level that is now calculated using the property tax (Title 24 of the Pennsylvania Statutes) . It will also force caps on education spending that have substantive gains. It forces the pension problem back on the state legislators where they will have to deal with it. It diminishes the State’s ability to use local property taxation to impose unfunded mandates since those mandates are, in fact, property tax funded mandates. As far as the sales tax, it provides the consumer with tax choices not available to us in the School Property Tax. At every step of the way, this challenges the Status Quo of education funding that has existed since the 1960’s.
In the past, the Struggle for Independence regarding the School Property Tax has been something like Don Quixote chasing those elusive windmill dragons. Perhaps it was the guiding hand of Providence but those previous struggles have trained us to know what will work and the most effective means of slaying the actual dragon. To that end we have had a most able General in this battle in the form of David Baldinger. David has rallied us together and formed an amazing and growing coalition of taxpayers across the state and now, in this final hour, he needs us to set aside any differences that may divide us personally and charge forward in the battle for Property Tax Independence. In doping so David has also provided us with a sterling example of how to mobilize the grassroots behind an issue.
Like most of you, in this struggle, I have heard the heart-breaking stories of people who have lost their homes and others who are in the process. I have heard from young families who want to move to home ownership but are unable to do so because they can’t afford the school property tax and so remain trapped in rental servitude. I have heard from farmers who face losing the farm that has been in their families for generations. This is what Property Tax hath wrought. Senator Folmer has provided us with some profound words of wisdom when it comes to our legislative bodies in declaring that it’s time we stop sacrificing principle on the altar of self-interest.
Perhaps Providence has also provided us with the inspiration to do so in these words “Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”
In the race, for the first time, the finish line is well within our view. I know that we are tired and I know that some of you have been running this race for a very long time. Would we give up now when the battle’s end is so close in view? Is this not enough to make us push all the harder to win the day?
On December 23rd, 1776 as George Washington’s troops, ragged and worn out, were preparing plans to engage a body of Hessians in Trenton, New Jersey who had been hired as agents of the British Government to crush the American’s colonial fight for Independence. Like many in our opposition, these Hessians had no concern for the rights of the colonists to their property but were little more than mercenaries hired out to the highest bidder. For too long the colonists had endured the plundering of their property by these Hessian Mercenaries and now, in the bitter cold of winter with scarce to eat and not enough shoes to outfit the regiment Washington called for a strategic battle that would test to mettle of our colonial troops. To that end, Thomas Paine wrote these words in The American Crisis:
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”
Paine’s words inspired those brave men to respond in victory. On the morning of December 26th 1776 in one of the most famous battles of the American Revolution, the Battle of Trenton, which inspired the now infamous painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware, George Washington and the American troops proved that, as Winston Churchill said, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in dog!”.
Over the summer months we will be engaging in an effort to bring Property Tax Independence to the forefront of those non-sponsoring legislators in our home fronts. A public town hall will be held in Historic Bristol, Pennsylvania in Bucks County which is just about 10 miles south of Washington’s historic crossing. More town halls are being arranged. Local efforts are being planned to take this issue out to legislators who are in their districts during this summer break in the General Assembly Session. All of this summer activity will culminate on a convergence at the state capitol in support of Property Tax Independence so the call is going out to you now. How important is Property Tax Independence to you?
John Adams, in his letters to his wife Abigail, once said that “There are only two creatures of value on the face of this earth – those with a commitment and those who require the commitment of others.”
As we have relied on your commitment in the past, we again call upon you for such a commitment. Over the summer months take this issue to your legislators. On September 24th we are asking you to join us in Harrisburg for an afternoon of Citizen Advocacy and lobbying in securing our Freedom from the oppression of Property Tax Serfdom. All we have fought for is creating a Tsunami effect and the September demonstration needs to be the resounding crash and floodwaters of all we have done to lead up to that point. As the waters of a Tsunami covers all, that is what we must see in this movement if we are to push this to the finish line. For every drop of water missing from that wave the wave becomes incrementally smaller. Enough drops and the wave has no impact.
So I ask you again. How important is Property Tax Independence?
Here’s to the Tsunami effect on September 24th!