What would you call an individual who is asked to sacrifice everything, perhaps even to give up their home so that they can provide for the early retirement of a select class of citizen?
The Pennsylvania legislative body in Harrisburg has known for the last several years that were are rapidly approaching on a crisis. A seriously underfunded pension scheme that has been riddled with bad investments and poor returns that is generally under-performing expectations has resulted in a serious shortfall in the funding of pensions for the public sector in Pennsylvania. As usual, the legislative body has a solution, pass the cost down to the local level and make the public pay for it. Well not everyone, just property owners. Apparently legislators think that the American Dream of Home Ownership is a cash cow with an endless stream of revenue and nothing could be further from the truth.
We have created a special class in Pennsylvania in the public sector with special laws and special protections not granted to the private sector employees. In the private sector you can lose your pension. In the private sector, bad investments result in lower returns but in the public sector the return is a guarantee that has to be paid for by somebody and that somebody is going to be home owners.
More than half of the working families in Pennsylvania have household incomes of less than $50,000. Many of them are struggling to make ends meet between mortgage/rent, property taxes and the rising costs of necessities. As the School Property Tax continues to rise faster than the rate of inflation the first to feel the crunch are those in the lower income brackets who are already paying a higher percentage of their income to Property Tax. To then be told that the reason they can’t keep their home is because they purchased too much home while trying to dismiss the burden of the School Property Tax is just adding insult to injury.
We have seniors in this state who have been forced to sell their homes after a lifetime of paying property taxes to support a public education system. Other are struggling to keep things flowing by going out of retirement and back into the workforce in an attempt to keep the homes where they raised their families. Still other face the inevitable. Unable to sell in a tougher market, unable to pay the property tax, their property is seized and then sold on auction, often just covering the back taxes and fines and fees associated with such a sale. A lifetime of investment gone because they couldn’t pay their property Taxes.
Some members in the house are fine with this, as we learned during the debate on an Amendment to a property Tax bill on Tuesday, October 1. After creating a plush pension system for its public sector employees and for themself, the state underfunded the pension system. There has also been a series of investments that are not yielding the projected returns on those investments so that each year the pension debt grows larger. This is leading to a pension crisis but rest assured, your State Legislators have a solution.
Their plan is to push the debt burden down to the local level to be paid for through the property tax. Apparently they think that the people of the Commonwealth are stupid enough the believe that this will all be the problems of the local school board and, perhaps they are right. Most still think we have local control and most still think that all the expenses in our school districts are solely the fault of the local school board.
I’ve argued for a very long time now that one of the reasons for enacting the School Property Tax Independence Act is to force issues in front of the legislative body that they are intentionally ignoring. Things like Prevailing Wage Reform, Pension Reform, Paycheck Protection, the seriously flawed 1991 funding formula for our schools. As long as they can keep pushing the growing cost of these issues down to the local level through the School Property Tax, they don’t have to do anything. They can then boast about not raising our taxes at the state level when their inaction has contributed to the rising burden of the property tax.
They like to group all property taxes into the same bubble as though the school property tax was the same as our regular County and Municipal Taxes. In the grand and ancient scheme of Property Taxation the School Property Tax is a relatively new creature of invention designed to separate our school districts from the controls of our County and Municipal Governments and place them under the controls of the Department of Education.
If you doubt that for a minute, this past Friday the Department of Education raised the limits that require our school boards to turn to voter referendum for increases in the School Property Tax. Please, pay very close attention to this. The Department Of Education raised the limit, not the governor, not the legislative body and not the courts. An appointed agency of government under the executive branch just change the rules of the School Property Tax.
Now read this from the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Article 3, Section 31: The General Assembly shall not delegate to any special commission, private corporation or association, any power to make, supervise or interfere with any municipal improvement, money, property or effects, whether held in trust or otherwise, or to levy taxes or perform any municipal functions whatever.
The Department of Education is a created Department made possible by an Act in 1929 that has long since been abused to create an administrative branch of government that far exceeds the limitations of a Constitutional Rule of Law established in our Commonwealth’s Constitution. As long as the state doesn’t get the tab for their regulations and costs, the state seems to be fine with allowing these unelected regulatory legislators have their way. As long as those costs can be absorbed by the local school property tax, they’re good.
The release of this regulation by the Department of Education came directly on the heels of the the introduction and passing (without any impact studies, cost analysis or debate) of Seth Grove’s HB 1189. This bill is intended to give the legislators cover by pretending to give us property tax relief while making certain that property owners bear the brunt of the Pension burden.
We are already paying a local EIT tax that goes to the schools. The local EIT is paid for by everyone who is working in the state but there are areas in the State where large portions of the population actually work out of the state and aren’t paying that EIT tax. This is true in Monroe County where commuters use Monroe as a bedroom community while going off to work in New York. While everyone who works in the state pays the EIT, Property Owners pay the EIT and the Property Tax. Now, Rep Grove indicates he wants to expand the schools districts use of the EIT by dipping into mercantile and retail taxes while keeping the property tax in place once again preserving the property owner as the prime financial supporter of education.
Sales and Use Tax coupled with a wage tax is a one-time tax at the time of earning or purchase but property tax is eternal. As long as that property exists in the hands of a resident or business, that property will be taxed regardless of the fact that the property itself generates no revenue. Only the labor coupled with the goods and services provided generate revenue. A person’s home does none of these. Neither does the property that houses the business that provides those goods or services.
To believe that one class of citizens should bear the responsibility of providing for education funding based solely on the fact that they are providing a shelter for their family seems to be a very debased sense of equality. For a State mandated and regulated institution like Public education to use zip codes to determine the worth of a students education is reprehensible. To think that some should work until we die to pay school property taxes just to stay in their homes so that we can provide for the comfortable early retirement of those in the public sector is unconscionable.
Yet this is exactly what we have been asked to believe.
As one individual posted in a reply to a related blog – a comment was made that we should look at Property Tax as an investment, not a tax. An investment requires a return that we simply aren’t seeing. When 47 percent of our students who do graduate and go on to higher learning need remedial reading classes it raises the serious question of what are we really investing in. After listening to Eli Evankovich on the floor of the House earlier this week I think that’s pretty clear. I’m investing in somebody else’s retirement account and if that means I can’t retire or I have to lose my home, then that, to many of our legislators is what it means. I invest, and at great expense I might add, and someone else reaps the rewards. If that was solely towards the betterment of the education of our children I might not have so much of a problem with it but that’s not statistically what we are seeing.
In 1761 James Otis argued against the writs of Assistance which were violating the property rights of the colonists. He said “Now, one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one’s house. A man’s house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle.”
This was a word of warning to those who would disturb the peace and tranquility of a person in their home but they choose then, as many are choosing now, to ignore that warning. We are watching as our property is being surrounded by those who would rob from it at every chance they can under the mistaken notion that their own self-interest is in our best interest. Whether this be the business community who needs the consumer to keep that business running, the school board association who needs the property owner to pay their bills because they are unwilling to stand up to the unfunded mandates, the powerful state public sector unions who not only expect us to buy their bread but to butter it as well, or the state legislators who create problems that they think the property owners are the sole individuals accountable to provide for through paying for their mess be warned: We are no longer quiet and we are raising up quite an army to fight back.
Actually, the army is raising itself thanks to the actions of those who think our homes are the secret to their personal wealth and the legislators who are more concerning with special interest campaign funding then they are with the cries of their constituents. We will be heard and we aren’t going to go home until we are. We don’t want relief. We don’t want bandaids. We Want ELIMINATION through HB/SB 76 and nothing else.
We’ve tried this the other way in trying to get real reforms without Property Tax Elimination and its just not very productive. The only way that will happen is if the hand is forced and Property Tax Elimination and only Elimination will do that.
I started this with a question. Let me phrase it another way:
What would I call an individual who is asked to sacrifice everything, perhaps even to give up my home so that I can provide for the early retirement of a select class of citizen?
I call that person a serf: a subservient slave to an institution that should have been abolished a very long time ago.