The Irony of Opposing the Gas Tax while opposing Property Tax Elimination

People seem to be coming out of the woodwork to talk about the economic  impact in the state to add an additional 25 cents over the next five year (5 cents a year) to pay for necessary infrastructure repairs in the state.  I understand the frustration but it really gets under my skin when many of the groups in an outrage over the gas tax are working hard to oppose HB/SB 76 which would free homeowners from the crushing  school property tax.

Let’s look at some real numbers assuming the $0.25 that seems to have so many in an uproar is the actual cost to be realized by the residents of the state.  According to the Federal Highway Administration the average miles per year driven by Americans in 13,476.  According to a study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the average  MPG use is now 24.9.  Taking the average miles per year and dividing that by the miles per gallon tells us that the average consumer uses  541.2 gallons of gas per year.   Now the 0.25 increase will be applied incrementally over the next 5 years but even if we were hit with it all at once this translates into an increase of $135.3.

Only those who actually drive on the roads will be the ones paying this tax.  If you don’t drive, you don’t pay.  If you don’t make use of the roads and bridges, you don’t pay.  The less you drive, the less you pay.

Now let’s contrast this to the school property tax.  First of all I’d be willing to wager that for many Pennsylvanians their property tax has increased more than $135.3 over the last five years and will most certainly increase far more than that in the next five as the pension fiasco begin to hit home.  Yet all the furor from groups talking about the devastating  impact of the gas tax while they oppose HB/SB 76 seems incredibly hypocritical to me.  This is especially true when you consider the number of people paying the school property tax who do not have children in school.  Where the gas tax will be paid by people who actually make use of the roads, the same isn’t true of the school property tax.

If you put new tires on your vehicle, if you paint your vehicle…you won’t pay more in the gas tax because of improvements to your vehicle.  Actually some of the improvements will actually increase your MPG rates and you could actually pay slightly less.  That will NEVER happen with the school property tax.  New windows to make your home more energy efficient means a new assessment and higher taxes   New Roof or new siding to also make your home more energy efficient and another new assessment and even higher taxes……whether you have ever had children in the public schools or not.  When it comes to the School Property Tax, use doesn’t matter…you pay for the schools because you own property.

We’ve also heard a lot about the impact of the gas cost on the working poor.  Over the last several years we’ve watched rent increasing because of the property tax while the roles of those living in Section 8 or subsidized housing increases.  That means higher taxes from others to provide the Section 8 and subsidized housing that has increased, in part, because of the increasing property tax.  It makes those homes for the poor cost more in rent and then raises the taxes on everyone else to provide the relief to the working poor.  You can’t even remotely find an analogy with the gas tax and the property tax in this realm. Those who drive more will pay more.  Those who drive less will pay less.  Those who don’t drive at all pay nothing.  You don’t pay more because of the size or cost of your vehicle, you pay based on how much gas you use while you drive on the states highways and bridges.  You also aren’t going to pay higher taxes at the pump to provide for tax incentives, rebates and subsidies for other individuals.  Finally you won’t pay the gas tax even if you don’t drive to provide for gas of others who do.

It’s true that higher fuel costs mean higher prices for goods and services.  It’s also true that ever increasing property taxes does exactly the same thing.  So why are higher fuel cost bad, but runaway school taxes okay to these groups who oppose HB/SB 76?  Isn’t it hypocritical to raise such a fuss about the gas tax but to fight against real relief to property owners which has a much more devastating impact on lower income families and the elderly.

The Median Pennsylvania property tax is supposed to be around $2223.00 (although most people I know seem to pay much more than this and that number is created by northern counties where property taxes are much lower because of state funding related to declining populations but let’s go with that).  With the school tax being, on average, 2/3 of that tax that would mean that the median school tax is $1482.  In order to spend that same amount in a tax to help pay for roads that people who drive use every day you would have to purchase 5,928 gallons of gas or drive 147,607 miles per year to spend as much as you’ll be spending on this gas tax.  If you are spending more than the average on your taxes, those numbers only go up regardless of your having children in schools or not.   So again, why all the uproar over the gas tax coupled with such strong opposition to HB/SB 76?

Now I am willing to applaud those opposing the gas tax while fighting for property tax elimination but I can’t seem to abide by those who are screaming about the gas tax while doing all they can to oppose property tax independence.  It’s simply hypocrisy.

I’m also not willing to attack legislators who have worked to pass the gas tax putting the cost on actual users to pay for long neglected bridge and other infrastructure repairs if those legislators are also fighting for Property Tax Elimination and here’s why.

Taxes are a necessary part of government.  Those taxes should, however, only be collected for the necessary functions of government and safe highways are, in my opinion, a necessary function of government.   Bridges with serious structure issues and unsafe roads are the result of a governing body which has been irresponsible to its citizens.  We can argue all we want about where the money to pay for these necessary infrastructure repairs should come from but the debate on the responsibility to provide safe roads is clearly with the government.  Frankly, asking those who actually use the roads to pay for this through a use tax is not, again in my opinion, unreasonable.

Pennsylvania is already a terrible place to do business and unsafe bridges and roads will do nothing to attract new business to move here.  To those who want every type of taxation on the business industry and then wonder why more businesses leave the state than move here….get a clue!  At the same time, I’m all for breaking the overbearing regulations on business and making Pennsylvania a more tax friendly business state but I’m not for it if it means I have to sacrifice my home to ridiculous taxes to provide the business community with those breaks.  There has to be a partnership between the consumer and the businesses which provides the goods and services.  After all, tax me until I can barely stay in my home and I can’t afford to shop through your business.  Stand by while they take away my discretionary spending and you destroy your own business.

It can also be argued the education is the responsibility of our state government.  Certainly our Commonwealth Constitution argues that point but then we must ask ourself why such a great burden of this funding is derived from those who make no use of the public school system.  What about parents who opt for alternate education through private or parochial schools…Why must they pay for the public school?  What about the young couple who still have no children and are just getting started in life?  Why are they paying a school tax?  Then there is the elderly whose children have gone out and started their own families?  Lastly we must ask ourself why education funding is only the responsibility of those who own property?

For those who own property it becomes the sole obligation to provide education funding for the school tax regardless of use.     For those who don’t own property, while they may indirectly pay the property tax through higher rents,  the real burden is on the property owner.  If the tenant doesn’t pay their rent it can take several months for a landlord to evict the tenant and during that time nothing goes towards the property tax associated with the rent.  The Landlord, through no fault of their own, now risks losing the property as the government tax masters come collecting.

Finally, the tax applied to gas to repair roads and bridges has minimal impact of collection cost.  This is not true with the collection of property taxes.  A family falling on hard times results in a series of costs to the government in the collection of those taxes.  Worse yet, it requires a very expensive assessment/reassessment process to keep the tax equal and even when followed rigidly (and it most cases it is not) it always fails miserably in that equal taxation to the same class of citizens.

It can be repeatedly argued that the property tax is unconstitutional, especially when it comes to the school property tax.  No matter how you spin it, a tax to pay for the roads we use every day applied to everyone who uses those roads isn’t unconstitutional.

This year my school property taxes, like many others in this state, went up once again.  The newspapers claimed this will cost me an additional 70-75 dollars a year.  That has to be added to the additional 70 dollars from last year.  Every increase in the future will only add to this burden and I’d like to know where the groups screaming about the gas tax are when this happens.  Where is the outcry for the homeowners who are losing their homes?  Where is the outcry for the young couple just starting out who are denied the path to home ownership because the taxes are too high?  Where is the outcry about the inflated costs of goods and services because we have a property tax to begin with?  Where is the outcry about the cost associated with maintaining this tax that only makes the property tax go higher?

When it comes to this, maybe I could handle the silence if it was actually silence but we now have a bill to end this egregious and discriminatory tax, and it isn’t silence…it is vocal and active opposition and its really makes we wonder who these groups really represent.  How can they claim that their outrage about the gas tax is based on the cost to the people when they are doing all they can to fight the school property tax elimination bill?  To me it should be obvious they don’t really care about the people and any claims that the outcry on the gas tax is about the people has to be….plain and simply…bullshit!

Yes, an additional $135 a year will have an impact.  It may result in less driving.  It might cut back on a vacation.  It might inconvenience some.  We should have that discussion.

In the meantime another 10,000 people actually lost their homes this year because they couldn’t pay for the property taxes.  The state is over 1 billion in property tax related debt connected to unpaid property taxes.  Every one of these people is a potential family at risk of losing their home.  Don’t tell me you care about the people because it might crimp your vacation while you sit back and watch the thousands losing their homes each year.  It’s not very becoming and it is, in my opinion, incredibly transparent.

By the way, if we enacted HB/SB 76 the boon to economic growth would be such that the gas tax wouldn’t have been necessary.  New job creation and new income generated through sales and income tax as well as making the state more attractive to outside business would have generated the revenue necessary to fund the roads.  Your opposition to HB/SB 76 is, whether you want to admit this or not, responsible in part for the need for the gas tax increase.

We have a lot of problems that need real solutions.  Just bitching and complaining…opposing everything without offering solutions does nothing.  You simply become a loud distraction making a lot of noise but accomplishing nothing.  Haven’t we all had enough of that?

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