Yesterday the Pennsylvania House Of Representatives looked like a scene from the classic movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington as Rep Jim Cox took to the floor in an attempt to advance HB 76, The Property Tax Independence Act. With powerful lobbying efforts on both sides of the political spectrum fighting against us and a leadership that has done absolutely nothing but serve as an obstacle to this legislation at every step of the way the outcome was both disappointing and expected. The real world isn’t Hollywood and often in this world the good guys in fights about moral principles do not come out on top. That wasn’t because of any lack on Rep. Cox’s part. He has every reason to stand proud of his effort.
After all the stalling efforts in the House Rep. Cox was forced to introduce HB 76 via amendment to another seriously flawed concept in property taxation being proposed by Seth Grove. Seth Grove’s plan is to expand the taxing authority of the school district into three more areas, all without voter referendum. Pennsylvanians are quick to see the flaws of this concept. While we may see property tax reduction at the onset, the expanding authority of the school districts will give them new local taxing authority with property as the main flow that will, in very short time, put us right where we are now with a higher local EIT or higher costs for goods and services realized through a mercantile or retail tax.
Without any impact studies or the scrutiny that HB 76 had received Grove’s bill was advanced without discussion. It was introduced on the first day back from the summer recess to the Finance Committee along with Kerry Beninghoff’s newly crafted proposal of expanding the school districts authority without voter referendum solely through the EIT. The ink was not even dry on Benninghoff’s legislation and both bills flew through the committee and on to the floor.
Cox was essentially forced to make the amendment move and actions such as this do not go unnoticed in a political arena where fear and intimidation are tactics of a political machinery in their efforts to cling to their powers at whatever cost to the taxpayers and there was that and more going on in the closed door Caucuses that ended the previous days legislative session in the house early and resulted in a 2 hour delay before the House took to the floor on October 1, 2013.
Shifting from a property tax formula to taxation based on product and labor is a radical shift. It is made all the more difficult because of the overly complicated tax codes in the state of Pennsylvania. HB 76 was going to need some clarification through amendment, a normal part of any legislation. This became a thorn of contention with this bill; the excuse to pummel it with the most vicious dogs in this fight being Kerry Benninghoff and Phyllis Mundy. Benninghoff was quick to use talking point catch phrases like not ready for prime time as though this is some sort of sketch from Saturday Night Live but there was nothing funny in what he was doing.
The legislative process has always been one where any bill is amended for points of clarification as it moves through both bodies. In fact after Seth Grove gave his closing opposition remarks again pointing out theses clarification issues, he introduced an amendment to his own bill that was a technical point of clarification revealing him and the others for the hypocrites they were. Apparently the Grove Bill was also not ready for Prime Time but that didn’t stop their efforts to push the Grove bill.
Even more confusing is the fact that after Phyllis Munday’s scathing assault on Cox’s amendment, she voted for it. Perhaps, after her comments on the floor, she is hoping to play the political game to go back to her constituents and rely solely on her vote. I am hoping her own constituents have the good sense take her to task for such actions.
In between all the exaggerated hype of class warfare rhetoric and of a devastated Pennsylvania as a result of this bill, something that carefully choose to ignore the negative impact that runaway property tax in our school districts is having on our economy already, the real argument for preserving the Property Tax surfaces. We can thank Rep Evankovich for that although Rep Grove did his share of shedding light on the motivation behind the disdain for Property Tax Elimination. How will we pay for the pensions of the public sector employees if we eliminate the property tax? Evankovich grilled this point for 15 minutes during the debate in opposition of the Cox Amendment.
With thousands of Pennsylvanians losing their homes each year; with thousands more barely clinging on to their homes; with thousands more at a point where the next increase will put them in the same position of losing or barely clinging to their properties – the legislative issue is to make certain that tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians are uncomfortable in their retirement even at the risk of losing their homes so that they can force us to pay for the pensions and retirement of the public sector. In some cases we’ve met people who have gone out of their retirement in acts of desperation of clinging to their homes and our legislators are more concerned with keeping an unsustainable promise to the public sector unions then they are with the people of this Commonwealth.
Yesterday the people of Pennsylvania suffered a serious setback and to those who paid attention they saw a once proud system of representative government who derived their powers from the consent of the people reduced to legislative powers intended to keep the people of this state in abject slavery. We saw a minority of legislators and their willing puppets dance all over the protections afforded to the people of this state through the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Sadly, we also saw other legislators without the backbone to stand up to the leadership and for the people.
For all this talk of drafting errors or clarification language not a single one of the opponents offered one amendment to fix what they claimed was wrong with the bill. They have prevented the bill from being considered so that any amendments could be added to the bill to make those points of clarification. For all this talk of numbers not working, none of them are offering anything to resolve the numbers, even if such a claim were true. Rather than looking for solutions, the leadership offered alternatives that are not alternatives to those struggling now and soon to be joined by a myriad of others as the pension debacle unfolds in this state. Rather than place firm caps on education spending set to the rate of inflation; rather than assure that the constitutional protections to our property are provided for – these legislators have opted to expand the taxation authority to continue to preserve their ability to use the powers of unfunded mandates to force tax increases down to the local level. The most egregious of these is to provide for the pension of some while denying other residents in this state of their homes.
Spearheaded by Mike Turzai with Kerry Benninghoff, Seth Grove, Eli Evankovich, Phyllis Mundy and Madeline Dean, the all too willing accomplices in this mission, a carefully orchestrated effort was launched in Pennsylvania to sabotage School Property Tax Elimination that never once recognized the problems of the School Property Tax or even entertained the notion that such a problem even existed. From the beginning their criticism has existed in the realm of assuring the legislative defeat of HB 76 through deceit and misdirection to keep everyone talking about anything except the defined areas of the replacement funding necessary to eliminate the school property tax.
To the business special interests that are opposing us: What will you do if the projected numbers of the cost of the school property tax become a reality in this state? Without disposable income by the consumer, how will you stay in business in Pennsylvania or doesn’t that matter to you?
To the PSEA and the PSBA: Your claims of it being “all about the children” are getting tired. Forcing children and their families into poverty to pay for opulence and excesses in our schools that are not yielding negligible positive results in quality of education is inexcusable. The people of this state are willing to provide for a thorough and efficient system of education because we do believe the education of our children is important. Good luck with those fundraisers in the future once the pension debacle really kicks in.
To Philadelphia: The AVI gentrification of this once proud city that is forcing people out of their homes is an affront to all that is decent and moral. While you are kicking people out of their homes in record number in schools that have been riddled with ethical conduct issues compounded by rising poverty caused, in part by runaway school spending; the rest of us are not here to bail you out. My heart goes out to the children in Philadelphia trapped in a system designed to grow poverty. I have the greatest empathy for the parents who, against great odds, have attempted to provide a stable home for their children in troubled neighborhoods but forcing those people out of their homes is not a solution to the problem.
To the legislators: I am proud to live in a state that has 58 courageous members in the house who would not bend to the pressures of leadership placing their political futures and their campaign support at risk. I refuse to include Phyllis Mundy in that number for obvious reasons that her constituents must deal with. Please don’t send this hypocrisy back to Harrisburg to inflict this kind of damage on our state again. With 203 legislators, those 58 brave men and women were sadly outnumbered but not defeated because this battle is far from over.
You might be able to fool yourself into thinking we are going home. You might have deluded yourself into thinking you could do and say what you wanted during that debate yesterday and that we weren’t watching. We were and we saw through the clouded efforts to protect your institutions of power at the expense of property owners in this state.
We still have Senate Bill 76 and we will continue to fight this battle all the way through to the end. House Bill 76 is not dead, only the amendment was killed yesterday. That’s not going away either. You will be accountable for your votes and you will be accountable for your actions to the people of this state. I warned that you would hear us this September or fear us next November and I will do my part to deliver on that promise starting right here in my own community to support any individual who embraces the Constitution of this Commonwealth and is willing to fight for School Property Tax Elimination.
To the sponsoring legislators who caved: One vote does not make a political career but it can break it. As I stated, this fight is not over. To the 100,000 constituent supporters of this legislation we have seen disappointment in your votes which will cause responses of frustration. There is still time to redeem yourself from that vote by working with us and with Jim Cox to work towards fighting for this legislation, expose the deceit and misdirection of leadership and stand up for a principle.
Rep. Grove is dead wrong. Our Government is built upon a concept, not a policy. That concept is realized in the Constitutions of our Commonwealth and our Nation and is to be the guiding concept for all laws in this nation. We didn’t win our Independence by Policy Makers, it was won on the battlefield of ideas. Our Government did not come into being because of Policy, it was born out of concepts established by great thinkers like John Locke, Cicero and others.
Stating that just governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed is not a policy, it’s a concept. Stating that all men have an inalienable and indefeasible right to property is not mere policy, it is a concept. We either work to make those concepts become a reality or we work to defeat them. Rep Grove has made it clear where he stands. You must now decide if you will stand with him or you will stand on principle.
Without a moral concept or premise, policy means nothing beneficial to the people. Laws intended to expand the authority of government in taxation over us is not limiting the powers of government and it doesn’t matter what level that is: local, State or Federal. Laws intended to place a punitive responsibility on some while exempting others can never be moral law.
Education is the responsibility of this state but it’s everyone’s responsibility and the cost of that responsibility should not be determined by zip codes. It is an equal responsibility that needs to be borne by everyone equally or it can never be just.
You can either join the rank and file and surrender solutions for excuses or you can start a new day by making a bold stand for a simple principle: No Tax Should Have The Power To Leave You Homeless.