For more than 30 years the people of Pennsylvania have been crying for Property Tax Elimination. Candidates make it a central issue on their campaign platforms and for 30 years we’ve been putting people in office who promise to finally do something about it. So why hasn’t it happened?
Year after year as legislation has been introduced and moved forward, those special interest groups come out of the woodwork and start using their political clout to stand in the way of property tax reform and every time they do they bring the same old tired excuses while offering no real solutions.
During the several hearings on HB/SB 76 we have seen this played out and along the way we’ve heard some pretty ingratiating statements being made by legislators and special interests alike. While this tactic has worked for 30 years, the people of Pennsylvania have about had it. They can read the handwriting on the wall and many realize that this is no longer just about the property taxes being too high, we are at a point where it is absolutely unsustainable and we know that its only going to get worse.
One of the excuses is that property taxes are just a symptom; that the real problem is a myriad of other countless issues that must be fixed and that somehow that will bring us property tax relief. Excuse me….relief is NOT elimination. We’ve settled for the relief in the past and we know what that means.
While pointing to all of these other issues, every detractor ignores that property tax is the enabler of virtually every one of those issues. Without Elimination, those issues we fix temporarily today are only going to resurface at some future time. Unfunded Mandates (without a property tax how do the legislators pass down unfunded mandates on a school district); The Pension Debate (without a property tax tax how do the legislators pass down the costs of the pension on a local school district); Common Core (without a property tax how does the Department of Education make local school districts pay for it); Prevailing Wage Reform (without the property tax the legislators would have to address this issue because there would be no local resources to pay for it); The Problems with the State Education Funding Formula….The Property Tax makes it possible for legislators to keep kicking the can down the road on those issue and the problem for home owners is that the can they are kicking is our home.
For Scores of Pennsylvanian’s, it’s already too late. The Property Tax has eaten away their resources to a point where they can no longer afford to keep their homes and whether they want to hear this or not the truth is that the majority of people aren’t losing their homes because they bought too much home in the housing bubble. They are losing their homes because of the opposition of the special interest groups and the legislators who are on the dole of special interest groups willing to appease them at the expense of the common citizen.
Let’s take a look at some of the so-called solutions being offered by this opposition.
1. We need a statewide assessment board and regular assessments: That sounds reasonable if we assume that assessments actually do keep property taxes fair, which study after study has clearly demonstrated that they do not. The IFO has already shown us what is happening with the property tax compared to other costs on the citizens of Pennsylvania:
That graph represents the last 20 years and we can then project what is going to happen with the next twenty….but wait. This does not take into account the Pension Bomb that’s going to slam a dose of reality into the state in the next five years. What we see is that the Pension issue isn’t the problem, Property Taxes are already ramping up without them. Fixing the Pension issue isn’t going to fix this problem for homeowners. It may stop a massive hemorrhage when it hits but there is still that steady painful death if we don’t eliminate.
The Assessment issue requires that the entire state be reassessed every three years. The estimate cost of such an assessment is between 600 million and 1 billion dollars every three years. So the solution to the the problem of people not being able to afford their property taxes is to initiate a program that is going to cost them an additional 200 million to 350 million per year that isn’t going to stop their property taxes from increasing but is going to add more need for tax revenue. That’s not a solution.
2. Shrinking the Property Tax Base. Several people are proposing solutions that essentially shrink the base. They say, “Let’s freeze the Property Tax for Senior Citizens.” So if a Senior is already struggling with their property tax by sacrificing food and meds just to keep their homes some would want to freeze them in that state so they don’t lose their home but continue to feel the pain of doing without. The problem with any of these solutions is that they provide some relief to certain classes of citizens that always places a higher burden on other people. It’s not like freezing the property tax lowers the revenue needed, it just shifts that burden on to others by shrinking the base. That will only create more people who need property tax relief. It’s not a solution because once again, it doesn’t fix the problem….it makes it worse.
3. Expand the Taxing Authority of the School District. Let’s refer to this as the Grove Solution because Representative Grove wears it so proudly. Grove hates HB/SB 76 and he’s not afraid to tell us so. He has given us HB 1189 which essentially promises the possibility of property tax elimination while make sure that it never happens. It expands the taxing authority of the school district into three more areas, does nothing to cap education spending to inflation and as a result does nothing to offer us real tax relief. Like previous relieve attempts, we pay more for the illusion of relief while not actually getting it.
That should come as no surprise. One of the roles of the clown is to create a distraction between the big acts. That doesn’t matter whether its a circus clown or a rodeo clown. The problem in the circus of Pennsylvania Politics is that the Clowns are more plentiful and the distractions are there to allow the other actors in the circus to slip under the bleachers and pick our pockets.
If you are like me, you are tired of the Clowns. It doesn’t matter who those clowns are. The Clowns who say any of the above or other really ridiculous things like 10,000 people losing their homes isn’t a big enough problem in the state to do anything about it…..How do we pay for the pension if we eliminate Property Taxes……Painful taxes are good for the state….it just doesn’t matter because these aren’t the funny lovable clowns in the circus or in our Holiday Parades in their little tiny cars driving around in circles, honking their horns or making cute little animals out of balloons.
These clowns are more in line with a Stephen King book…you know the one.
There’s nothing funny about these clowns. Their opposition to property tax elimination (even though they claim it’s about the poor) has resulted in higher property taxes that drive up the cost of the goods and services the poor need to survive. The Opposition to property tax elimination in the last 30 years have driven up the cost of rent, the cost of food and the cost of clothing by taxing the farms where the food and materials for our clothing is grown. Then taxing the properties of the factories that process these goods. Then Taxing the the property of the shipping companies that ship the goods, the warehouses that store the goods and the stores that sell the goods.
The property tax is also responsible for creating a transient life for our children (even though they claim that the high cost of education is all about the children). Higher rents force people to move more. Higher property taxes force families out of their homes. It might be stable revenue because of the fear of losing the property but for the homeowner being taxed out of their house creates instability and a tension that results in insecurity in our children.
The property tax is also the single greatest reason our seniors leave or lose their homes. Promising to freeze their taxes isn’t a solution for them and its not a solution to us. Its abuse. It’s like telling the slave tied to the whipping post that the guy with the whip won’t hit them anymore without telling them they won’t hit them any less either.
Maybe its time we tell the clowns to sit down and shut up. That would be fair…that’s what they been telling us for the last 30 years. Maybe its time to get those clowns off the tracks and let the train of property tax elimination move forward. For us, the homeowners, there really isn’t any other options. We either clear the tracks or we face the inevitable and this time, people can see the inevitable. So can the legislators who are fighting for the people. It’s about time!