Top 10 Ridiculous Reasons to Oppose School Property Tax Independence
“Whenever the power that is put in any hands for the government of the people, and the protection of our properties, is applied to other ends, and made use of to impoverish, harass or subdue them to the arbitrary and irregular commands of those that have it; there it presently becomes tyranny, whether those that thus use it are one or many”. (John Locke – Second Treatise, Chapter 18).
As we approach the end of another year the struggle for Property Tax Independence moves forward but I think the past 18 months has been a startling revelation of the way special interests and some of our State Legislators look at the average citizen in the State of Pennsylvania. As is typical, I want to end the year with a look back at the 10 most egregious statements made in opposition to the School Property Tax Independence Bills HB/SB 76. The above quote by John Locke will figure predominantly in this look back so keep that in mind as you read on.
1. During the house hearing last year Michael Wood of the supposedly non-partisan Keystone Research Center and Research Director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center declared that 10,000 people losing their homes each year is not a significant enough number to do anything about it. In my opinion that should have made headlines across the state but most media outlets simply chose to ignore this statement. Consider that that 10,000 people include people who lose their homes after it is actually paid for in full but now, in retirement, the taxes exceed their ability to pay….for many the taxes are higher then they paid in their monthly mortgage. Frankly, I can not imagine any scenario where the plight of 10,000 people annually that reaches a point of losing their homes, can be dismissed in the manner that Mr. Woods dismissed them. That the media chooses to ignore this statement from a very influential lobbying group during a public hearing is, in my opinion, outrageous.
2. After an attempt was made to include HB 76 as an amendment to replace another property tax bill Eli Evankovich took to the floor of the House and asked Rep. Jim Cox how we would pay for the pensions if we eliminated the School Property Tax. Again, I would have thought the media, who understands the plight of the tax payers when it comes to the unfunded pensions, would have been all over this but once again, there is the eerie sound of silence. The legislators granted themselves and other State Employees and teachers very lucrative pensions that have never garnered the interest to support the weight and when it comes to local government employees and teachers, the cost of this is apparently supposed to be borne through the local property tax, at least that’s what Mr. Eli Evankovich states. So, it would seem, some people must lose their homes so that others can retire early on a very comfortable pension scheme created by the state legislators and the burden of this is to be borne by property owners.
3. During a public town hall Rep Kerry Benninghoff claimed that the reason we haven’t seen Property Tax Elimination is the fault of the citizens of the state. So let me get this straight. For 30 years we’ve been begging for elimination. For 30 years Legislators like Benninghoff have stood in the way of the legislation and somehow this is the fault of the people. In many counties the Property Tax issue is a key issue in elections and many legislators get elected promising to do something about it. In surveys conducted across the state poll results show that between 60 and 75% of the people want total elimination and would be wiling to accept a higher sales and/or income tax to replace the property tax, but its out fault and not the fault of legislators like Benninghoff. That’s simply ridiculous.
4. During the Senate hearings it was suggested that we go to a statewide reassessment. This had previously been suggested at a hearing by the Urban Affairs Committees in Reading where it was stated that in order to maintain a fair reassessment it would have to be done every three years. It is actually suggested rather frequently without exploring the cost of such a proposal. With 67 counties and a cost of 5 to 10 million per county, depending on the population, a property tax many can already not afford would see any additional burden driving up their property taxes making even more people unable to afford the property tax and some groups think this is a solution. That Suggestion in the Senate Hearing came out of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center who also gave us the 10,000 people losing their homes claim so maybe the quote shouldn’t surprise us. Certainly if 10,000 people losing their homes is insignificant than driving up the cost of their taxes in order to maintain the status quo wouldn’t be too much to ask. For me, I would be asking how an organization with such apparent disdain for the people of the state actually gets a seat at the table to offer input in very important affairs that impact the lives of the average citizen.
5. The loss of Local Control. We hear this one everywhere and its amazing that so many people blindly accept this to be a reality when it so blatantly apparent that the only control the local school boards really have is over how much they will increase the property tax. Public Education is mandated, regulated and controlled by the state. The myriad of State appointed Department, Agencies and Commissions, using The Public School Code of 1949 and Title 22 of the Pennsylvania Code, control virtually every school policy which must always be in compliance with state regulations. Hiring, Firing, Discipline, its all in the Codes. Prevailing Wage, New building and renovation Construction Codes are also in these codes. While they claim local schools can select their own curriculum that’s only true so long as the curriculum they select is approved by the state. Now with intervention and interference in curriculum through No Child Left Behind and Common Core even the Federal Government is pulling the strings on Curriculum choices. Local Control is a myth and its an excuse used to stand in the way of property tax reform to maintain the status quo that perpetuates the problems that many of the special interest recognize but have offered no real solution to resolve the problems. Many of these special interests that are working hard to oppose Property Tax Independence financially benefit by the unfunded mandates that force school districts to use services of organizations represented by these same special interests. If families must have their lives uprooted or their homes seized in order to maintain this…so be it.
6. Property Taxes are a stable form of revenue. The statement is true but the reason its true is rarely discussed because it would perhaps be too embarrassing to admit the reason for the stability. It’s only a stable form of revenue for the tax collector because the system is so loose that if there are shortfalls the milage is just increased to compensate for loss of income until the past due tax is paid or the property is seized and sold for back taxes. In the meantime many families and seniors do without in order to make desperate attempts to cling to their homes as long as they are able. With the state over 1 billion dollars in property tax related debt that statement of stability needs to seriously be questioned but once again the majority of the media outlets simply ignore this. IN order to make up for that loss of 1 billion in revenue, the property tax must be inflated to keep that revenue stream stable for local governments and school districts. This only makes it more difficult for more people to keep up with the property tax and the problem continues to grow incrementally worse. The stability of the revenue from Property Tax is built upon a premise of assuring the instability the one paying the tax. It’s stability is derived from the same assurance that extortion money is derived from. You pay to avoid a delivery of the promise of a threat. When it comes to your property, failure to keep up with the cost of the tax results in the loss of the home where it is sold on auction for a fraction of its worth in order to satisfy the tax man and with no regard to just compensation to your investment into that property.
7. I hate to turn to another reference to Kerry Benninghoff but the claim is just to ridiculous to ignore. During that same town hall Kerry Benninghoff, while discussing HB/SB 76 which is exclusively School Property Tax Elimination, went on a lengthy diatribe about the cost of fire halls and fire engines as being a contributing factor to rising property taxes. Fire Departments and the cost of fire departments is an unrelated issue…it has nothing to do with SCHOOL Property Taxes Of course over the last 18 months most of our opposition has been spending an awful lot of time bringing unrelated issues to the table to detract from talking about the issue at hand, School Property Tax and it’s elimination. That was painfully obvious during opposition talking points, whether legislative or special interest, during all of the hearings in Harrisburg on the subject.
8. Freezing or deferring property taxes for seniors in the state. Of the two options freezing is better for seniors that a deferment but once again few are willing to speak out loud about where the money for these “Solutions” come from. Freezing property taxes on Seniors means raising property taxes on all other property owners to compensate for lost revenue in future increases therefore making it more difficult for younger families to either stay in their homes or to purchase a home to begin with. A deferment would mean that the property would continue to accrue taxes as long as the seniors lived which would then be paid in full by family members when the estate was settled. In 20 years a property tax of $2,500 a year would result in a tax debt of $50,000 but remember that if property taxes continue to increase at the rate it has increased in the last 20 years that debt could easily double or triple.
9. Property Tax isn’t the problem it’s any one of a hundred different things that, depending on the opposing legislator or opposing special interest must be fixed and then magically property tax will no longer be a problem. Property tax is the great enabler. Legislators, Departments, Agencies and Commissions and special interests can drive their agendas without consideration of cost to the state because the state can just push them down to the local level through another mandate that has to be paid for at the local level. Recently Harrisburg passed two “property tax bills” that exempt farm land that is used for high tunnel structures which were both signed by Governor Corbett. While this is good news for farmers, other property owners beware. The loss of that local revenue is going to have to come from some other place and as we have seen in the past, we are looking at increasing property taxes on other property owners. Perhaps this is an attempt to buy off the Farm Bureau’s support of HB/SB 76 but whatever the reason, relief for some at the expense of others without elimination for all is not a solution. Higher property taxes for other property owners results in lower disposable income for those property owners making it more difficult for them to buy the products made in those high tunnel structures. I fully support the family farms and believe we need to end the over regulation of the farming industry. I also believe one of the most effective ways of making this happen is the Elimination of Property Taxes on all property, including farms. Selective exemptions may benefit some in the short term but, as we have seen repeatedly, the property tax must increase to cover the loss of revenue and then everyone loses.
10. So here it is…number 10. I believe this statement is so egregious that it must be completely quoted in its full context.
“The fact that we are here and people are painfully paying a tax that they’re struggling to do, that means the tax is working. You know what? That’s great, because what this bill would do is alleviate the pain and when we alleviate the pain of school funding, now, all of a sudden, we’re not talking about this issue of how we’re spending the money anymore because now, everybody is feeling good. Now, all of a sudden, we’ve put a band aid on this. Right? We’ve alleviated the pain and now people aren’t talking about the spending. I’m not so sure that, from a tax policy perspective, angry tax payers – this is driven by spending – the angry tax payer thing – isn’t necessarily the check – it’s the amount of the check..” `Warren Hudak during the Senate Hearing on SB 76
So you are walking down the street and see someone being beaten to a pulp and the solution is to shout out to the one being pummeled that the pain proves that the beating is working. Seriously!!!!?
I heard a story that when the Jews were being transported to concentration camps on the Nazi trains and those trains went past a church holding services the Germans would sing their hymns louder so they wouldn’t hear the sound of the of Jews crying out from the trains.
Ayn Rand once said “It only stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice (Pain), there’s someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where’s there’s service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice in speaking of slaves and masters and intends to be the master.”
And this brings us back, full circle, to John Locke. The property tax was once a means by which local governments funded the necessary functions of government. That is no longer the case and nowhere is that more true than with the school property taxes. Property taxes are no the tools by which state and federal legislators and the special interests and the lobbyists who fund them utilize legislation to pass privilege to some at the expense of others down to the local level. This has become a cherished institution in a war between cronyism and the common citizen where there are always victims and the victims are always regular citizens whose only crime is that they own property that some feel they do not deserve to own. After all, it’s been said that if they can’t afford the taxes they shouldn’t be in the home and the people saying this are perfectly comfortable saying it until it’s their turn. Eventually it will be. Of course when the only people who actually own their homes are people in the top 50% of the income bracket then most people who oppose elimination now will be in favor of it. Pain in Mr. Hudak’s phraseology is a relative pain…as in their pain, not my pain.
In my opinion, to realize that others actually feel a tax pain to the point of losing the home they have labored towards their entire life. to admit to that pain….to actually state they are aware of the pain, and then insist we do nothing to take away that pain but actually tell them the pain is good for them because it somehow benefits what Mr. Hudak wants to accomplish becomes the least humane of all human beings.
Mr. Hudak’s quote might be number 10 but it is the core of what every other opposing voice has been saying all along. He was the only one honest, if perhaps foolish enough, to say it out loud. I guess that should earn him some credit but I can’t bring myself to respect his honestly when it comes at the expense of so many others. Telling me you’re going to beat me up before you do so may be honest but it will do nothing to earn my respect or to make the pain any easier to tolerate.
As I stated, he might be the only one to actually say it out loud but it is the sentiment of every opposing voice. They have no intention of easing the pain but would inflict more pain if it allowed them to advance their own agenda and it is only if we willfully sit back and allow them to continue to do so, that they win. I have no intention of allowing this and I will hold these people accountable to their words. If you interpret that as a threat, regardless of the leaps of imagination you must make to do so, than so be it. There is a real threat to the citizens of this state and that threat is everyone protecting the status quo of the property tax like the tyrants Locke warned us about to use it for every agenda and activity you wish advanced through unfunded legislative means.
I firmly believe that the reason you do not want the burden of education funding shifted back to the state is because you do not want the cost of your agenda exposed to the public. As it is now it can be hidden through the 501 school districts across the state where no one really can measure the real cost to the tax payers. I believe that you fear the exposure of your free ride at our expense. I believe that to be true of certain legislators as well as the special interests who oppose us.
As the New Year comes I resolve that I will not only do everything in my power to see this through. I will also do everything in my power to expose the power that is applied to other ends to impoverish, harass or subdue us and our property to the arbitrary and irregular commands of those tyrants, whether those that thus use it are one or many!