A PA. Property Tax bill that we have to pass before we’ll find out what’s in it!

Legislative Updates BannerDo you remember when Nancy Pelosi said that we needed to pass the Affordable Healthcare Act in order to find out what was in it?  Well, now there is a bill that is taking a similar approach to Property Tax Independence.  We have to pass it before we’ll know what we get as far as replacement funding.

On March 30, Rep. Russ Diamond circulated a memo for a total property tax elimination bill and it’s sure to garner some discussion. Property Tax is one of the most hated taxes in the state. Diamond’s proposal calls for a constitutional amendment that would then give the legislators 7 years to figure out the funding formula for his proposal.

I’m sorry Russ but I can’t buy into this. Yes, I really do want to see all property taxes eliminated but I also want to know the mechanisms behind such a proposal because, as they say, the Devil’s in the details, and with the Diamond bill, there really are no details.   There’s also another expression….be careful what you ask for!

When I spoke out about this proposal before the elections I was told by Mr. Diamond that I’ve forgotten what I’m Fighting for.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I know exactly what I’m fighting for and I’m not foolish enough to get behind a bill that could cost me my home because the replacement taxes make it so I can no longer pay my mortgage or force me to make choice between foods, meds and clothing.

We see that with the property taxes already and it’s one of the reasons they need to be eliminated but if what we get is worse than what we have now, nothing really changes.

Mr. Diamond makes some eloquent arguments against the property tax using founding principles in the language of this bill but I’m struck by the disconnect between property as real estate, and property in terms of wages and purchases.  Those are property as well.

I’ve always liked Ayn Rand’s definition of property “Just as man can’t exist without his body, so no rights can exist without the right to translate one’s rights into reality, to think, to work and keep the results, which means: the right of property.”

The real estate tax that we call the property tax is an egregious tax that needs to be eliminated primarily because it was established in times when we, as a society, were mostly agrarian.  Property was the only real way to measure wealth.  That’s not true anymore.  For most of us, our property isn’t where we earn our livings, its where we go after we’ve spent the rest of the day earning that living.  Our homes do not generate any income for us.

I believe that any proposal to eliminate the property has to clearly explain what we get in exchange.  What will be the burden of taxation on our other property?  In a government established on the consent of the governed, its hard to give consent to something if we don’t have everything we need to understand what we are consenting.

When Governor Wolfe made his Property Tax reduction Proposal it generated a lot of attention for the School Property Tax Independence Act (SB/HB 76). In the process the stark differences between reduction and school property tax elimination became part of the debate.  Both could be compared because we could actually study the proposals and see the mechanics of both bills.  Seth Grove’s alternate property tax bill was the same thing.  It offered a clear plan that would could determine whether or not to support based on the funding options.  That just isn’t the case here.

Giving the legislators seven years to come with any funding they want could result in just about anything.  We don’t know what they’ll replace it with because there are no restrictions.  It could be the PIT Tax.  It could Be Sales.  It could be both  We just don’t know.  we also don’t know how much of an increase we’ll see.  I can tell you that giving them 7 years to figure it out it will be higher than HB/SB 76 because without the caps of education spending, those costs, because of the Pensions, Healthcare and Special Education funding, are going to continue to grow. It could also be some newly created tax that may be worse than the property tax.  We just don’t know.

It could be framed around a redistribution model like the Governor’s plan.  It could be the local model like Seth Grove’s plan.  Again we just don’t know and for me that’s too big a gamble.

Another problem that I see is that it doesn’t differentiate between the school property tax (which is solely for education funding) and our country and municipal property tax which actually provides services in the protection of our Property (Police, Fire and Safety, etc). Putting that in the hands of the General Assembly, we could lose our local direct representation in our county and municipal government. I’m not opposed to eliminating county and municipal property taxes but the funding to replace that has to stay local, not put in the hands of the State.

Yes, I know the same complaint is made about School property Tax Elimination through HB/SB 76 but education is very different than funding our county and local governments. There is very little local control when it comes to education. It’s all pretty much mandated by the state and that’s simply because it’s about education, which our Constitution puts in the hands of the General Assembly. I’ve covered that extensively in other postings so going into it again here is a mute point.

The education of our children is everyone’s responsibility.  It shouldn’t be based on zip codes.  The property tax only creates disparities in the education of our children.  It places the primary burden on the homeowner.  Governor Wolf’s proposal excuses some from the property tax by placing higher burden on others using a redistributive model.  Seth grove’s Local option keep the zip code formula maintaining that disparity.  HB/SB 76 is the only model that say we all pay the same tax on our PIT and the same tax on Sales for the purpose of funding education.  No redistribution, no disparity.

Again, with the Diamond plan, we have to pass the Amendment in order to find out what option we get.

Because there’s no details this could wind up being like taking a new pill to get rid of a headache and winding up with cancer. I can’t wrap my head around it. It all seems so incredibly irresponsible to me.

Recently I was asked to get behind a bill that would prevent the seizure of homes for non-payment of taxes. I don’t want to see anybody’s home seized but something has to replace the seizing of property. As long as the tax is there, there will have to be some penalty for those who don’t pay. Without such details I’m not going to blindly get behind a piece of legislation simply because I agree with general principle if, without such details, what we get is an even greater violation of my principles.

James Madison, in Federalist 62, warned us “It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it will be tomorrow.”

In my opinion, this is a bad bill.  None of us has any way of knowing what the law will be tomorrow as the Dimaond Bill creates a law that is so transmutable but will be alluring to some by dangling the carrot of Property Tax elimination to get people behind it. While focusing on the carrot, they won’t see the potential cliff we are heading towards.

It’s been unveiled at a bad time. We’re seeing great momentum on School Property Tax Elimination through HB/SB 76. This isn’t going to help those efforts. There will be far too many people who don’t stop to think about the consequences, what we could end up with, to jump on board this bill because they hear total Property Tax Elimination.  That winds up hurting the efforts of SB/HB 76. Then again, maybe that’s its purpose!

I’m really tired of the distractions that just keep making it harder to get the job done.

Frankly, I doubt this bill has any chance of passing at all. That being said, just because a bill has little chance of passing isn’t enough to keep me from advocating against it if I disagree with it. Not knowing what I’m going to get as a result is very solid reason for taking a position and for that reason alone, I say no to the Diamond Property Tax Bill.

You can read the memo and the bill by going to this link:




PA. Legislative Update: Taxpayer Protection Act

Legislative Updates BannerIn February of this year Senator Folmer re-introduced the Taxpayer Protection Act (Senate Bill 7) which would go a long way in restoring accountability to the General Assembly. When adjusted for inflation, total state spending will have increased by approximately $13,800 per family of four from 1970 through 2015. In spite of the growth in spending, Pennsylvania’s economic growth has seen us constantly in the bottom 5%.

One important aspect of the Taxpayer Protection Act is that it limits future spending to rate of inflation coupled with population growth setting a course for responsible budgets with sustainable levels of growth in both good economic times and bad, avoiding budgets that have resulted in the deficits of recent years. The Taxpayer Protection Act would also provide a Rainy Day Fund where 25% of taxes collected above estimated spending levels would be placed into that Fund which could be used to balance the budget during years when revenue growth does not meet projections. It also creates a process where excess state tax revenues would be used to reduce Personal Income Tax rates instead of being diverted into new spending.

These things might sound familiar. The School Property Tax Independence Act (SB 76) does the same thing as it eliminates the School Property Tax by shifting to a 4.36 PIT and an increase in the Sales Tax from 6% to 7%. It also caps future education spending to the rate of inflation, creates a cushion in case of bad economic times and provides for reductions in the PIT if the revenue exceeds 6% of the needs according to the education funding. We’ll see things like that in bills where the people of the Commonwealth take a priority in consideration of budget spending.  That’s accountability!

We need more accountability to the taxpayers in this state if we are going to turn the economic picture of this state around and both of these bills go a long way in putting us back on that course. As of February 23 Senators Elder Vogel, John Eichelberger, Kim Ward, Scott Hutchinson, Randy Vulakovich, Camera Bartolatta, Patrick Browne, John Gordner, Richard Alloway, Ryan Aument, Patrick Stefano, Donald White, Joseph Scarnati and John Rafferty were listed as co-introducers of the SB 7, The Taxpayers Protection Act.

The legislation is in the Finance Committee which consists of Eichelberger, Hutchinson, Scarnati, Aument, Browne, Vance Ward as the majority with Blake, Haywood, Teplitz and Wozniak in the minority committee positions. Eichelberger, Hutchinson, Scarnati, Aument, Browne, and Ward, all having put their names to this bill should see this bill go through the Finance Committee but it can use our help.

The Commonwealth Foundation had prepared a PDF last year on key points in the legislation; You can still access that filer:


You can also access the bill here:


We’ve taken the work of this as far as looking up finance Committee members contact information. Contact members of the Finance Committee and ask them to move this bill. Phone Calls or office visits are the most sure way to make certain the legislators hear your voice. A written letter is the next best contact. Names marked with an asterisk (*) are already supporting the legislation so be sure to thank them for their support.

  1. John Eichelberger* (Majority Chair) – (717) 787-5490; jeichelberger@pasen.gov

Senate Box 203030, Harrisburg, PA 17120-3030. Room: 169 Main Capitol

  1. John Blake (Minority Chair) – (717) 787-6481; senatorblake@pasenate.com

Senate Box 203022, Harrisburg, PA 17120-3022. Room: 17 East Wing

  1. Scott Hutchinson* (Vice Chair) – (717) 787-9684;

Senate Box 203021, Harrisburg, PA 17120-3021. Room: 170 Main Capitol

  1. Joe Scarnati* (Ex-Officer) – (717) 787-7084; jscarnati@pasen.gov

Senate Box 203025, Harrisburg, PA 17120-3025. Room: 292 Main Capitol

  1. Ryan Aument* – (717) 787-4420; raument@pasen.gov

Senate Box 203036, Harrisburg, PA 17120-3036. Room: 352 Main Capitol

  1. Patrick Browne* – (717) 787-1349; pbrowne@pasen.gov

Senate Box 203016, Harrisburg, PA 17120-3016. Room: 281 Main Capitol

  1. Patricia Vance – (717) 787-8524; vance@pasen.gov

Senate Box 203031, Harrisburg, PA 17120-3031. Room: 173 Main Capitol

  1. Kim Ward* – (717) 787-6063; kward@pasen.gov

Senate Box 203039, Harrisburg, PA 17120-3039. Room: 168 Main Capitol

  1. Arthur Haywood – (717) 787-1427; senatorhaywood@pasenate.com

Senate Box 203004. Harrisburg, PA 17120-3004. Room: 457 Main Capitol

  1. Rob Teplitz – (717) 787-6801; senatorteplitz@pasenate.com

Senate Box 203015, Harrisburg, PA 17120-3015. Room: 15 East Wing

  1. John Wozniak – (717) 787-5400; wozniak@pasenate.com

Senate Box 203035, Harrisburg, PA 17120-3035. Room: 10 East Wing


The Lawless Regime of an Orwellian Nightmare!

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

 “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”

― George Orwell, 1984

We have a Federal Constitution in the United States that is supposed to be a Rule of Law concerning the limiting of the powers of Government. Few would doubt that the Constitution has been subverted. We have other laws established for the protection of the American people as well. Laws intended to hold Congress and our government accountable to the people. Consider this law:

18 U.S. Code § 2071 – Concealment, removal, or mutilation generally

(a) Whoever willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, or destroys, or attempts to do so, or, with intent to do so takes and carries away any record, proceeding, map, book, paper, document, or other thing, filed or deposited with any clerk or officer of any court of the United States, or in any public office, or with any judicial or public officer of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

(b) Whoever, having the custody of any such record, proceeding, map, book, document, paper, or other thing, willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States. As used in this subsection, the term “office” does not include the office held by any person as a retired officer of the Armed Forces of the United States.

Following the attack on Benghazi the Administration fabricated a story about a video in the first part of an attempt to willfully conceal the involvement of this administration and the Departments under his Office in the action. On the day of the attack Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement confirming that one State official was killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Her statement, which MSNBC posted at 10:32 p.m., made reference to the anti-Muslim video.

Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind. (Hillary Clinton)

We were told that the attack came after a demonstration got out of control yet no such evidence of this is in any record except in the words of this administration. At 8:30 p.m. Benghazi time (2:30 Eastern Time) the record shows that U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens steps outside the consulate to say goodbye to a Turkish diplomat. There are no protesters at this time. (“Everything is calm at 8:30,” a State Department official would later say at an Oct. 9 background briefing for reporters. “There’s nothing unusual. There has been nothing unusual during the day at all outside.”).

Four days after the attack Susan Rice, at the time serving as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, appeared on the talk show circuit and said:

But based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy — sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that– in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.

As a result of a filing through the Freedom of Information Act it was disclosed on May 2, 2014:

Two days before Rice’s appearance on the Sunday talk show circuit, Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes sent an email to other administration officials, including White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, with the subject line “PREP CALL with Susan: Saturday at 4:00 pm ET.” Rhodes’ email outlined four “goals” for Rice’s TV appearances. One of the goals: “To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” The email contained a mock Q&A session, and the third question asked whether the Benghazi attack was “an intelligence failure.” The answer in the email parroted — nearly word for word — Rice’s talking points when it said: “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US Consulate and subsequently its annex.” The Rhodes email was released April 29 by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group that obtained 41 State Department documents under the Freedom of Information Act. (Source: Factcheck.org)

Susan Rice has since been named as National Security Advisor in spite of her willful attempts to mislead the public in the events concerning the Attack in Benghazi.

As hearings have proceeded we have learned that Hillary Clinton, the Secretary Of State, concealed her email interaction from the public records through the use of a private email server. This was a willful attempt to conceal the record of these emails from the public scrutiny through the representative government. By refusing to turn over the entire server that contain these emails Hillary Clinton actions have removed these records from scrutiny and has done so willfully while also willfully concealing them.

These actions are clearly in violation of the above stated law and neither Hillary Clinton nor Susan Rice are above the law. Without a prosecution of this law, they will be held unaccountable for violating the law in matters that concern the National Security of the United States thereby impacting the lives of 320 million Americans.

They aren’t alone. Lois Lerner remains un-prosecuted for willfully concealing the actions of the Internal Revenue Service concerning similar attempts to hide the email records of that Agency and alleging the willful destruction of those records. After being told that these email records were completely lost we then learned that many of them were retrievable. As a result of these restored emails we now know that dialogue with Lerner in the emails expressed concern about an investigation by Congress and when she learned that Office Communications Server (OCS) messages were not set to automatically save, Lerner wrote, “Perfect.”   This is also in violation of the above law.

As a result of other filings through the Freedom of Information Act it was discovered that records are being destroyed by the EPA related to The President’s “war on coal” citing the actions of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy.

We’ve also learned that the Veteran’s Administration destroyed records of Veteran’s seeking care through their agency.

More recently the U.S. Government lied to a federal judge, misrepresented facts and illegally gave 100,081 illegal aliens immigration status despite a pending lawsuit and an injunction. During the heated court hearing Andrew Hanen, a U.S. District Court Judge, said that the apparent violation had made him look like an idiot since he initially believed the U.S. Government.

“When I asked you what would happen and you said nothing I took it to heart. I was made to look like an idiot. I believed your word that nothing would happen.”

During the hearings leading to an injunction handed down by Judge Hanen, attorney’s with the Department of Justice claimed that if an injunction was filed nothing would be done. That wasn’t the case. Angela Colmonero from the Texas Attorney General’s office said.

“The defendant did the exact opposite and gave 100,000 renewals for a term of three years under the expanded DACA. The defendant didn’t inform the court until March 3—15 days after the injunction was filed.”

In November of 2013 John Crudele revealed in a report in the New York Post that a Census employee was caught faking the results of the Census Bureau survey. Julius Buckmon told the reporter in an interview that he was told to make up information by higher-ups at Census. Newsmax revealed that Buckmon was the seventh worker who lost his job as a data collector in 2010 after it was publicly revealed that they had falsified reports. The Post noted that because the Census surveys are scientifically conducted, each interview counts for 5,000 households, and therefore Buckmon’s 100 extra fake interviews monthly would have resulted in falsified information on 500,000 households. Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the Oversight Committee, has asked for documents relating to the Buckmon case, “including e-mails, between and among Census Bureau employees referring or relating to the collection of the Current Population Survey.” But sources told the Post that the Commerce Department and the Census Bureau have been “surprisingly hostile and non-cooperative” in their response. Various New media outlets tried to downplay the falsification of Census Data citing that the Post article was published in 2012 and Buckmon had been fired in 2010 without reporting that data for the census was collected in 2010.

Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC, refused to go before the House Oversight Committee prior to the FCC’s vote on new Internet regulations pertaining to net neutrality. The committee’s chairman, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah), and Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R., Mich.) criticized Wheeler and the administration for lacking transparency on the issue. After the release of the 400 pages of regulations it is said that this is a broad attempt by government to control the internet but was a decision that should have been made by Congress, the lawmaking body, not the FCC. In his refusal to testify before the House Oversight Committee Tom Wheeler willfully concealed from the lawmaking body the intent of the FCC regulations.

At the same time this administration has pursued more cases against journalists than any other administrations in their outrageously broad grab of the email and phone records of reporters and editors at the Associated Press and other media outlets. In part, this pursuit of journalists is to intimidate whistleblowers who have leaked information about multibillion-dollar mismanagement fraud, waste and corruption in government. One such case was against whistle-blower Thomas Drake. Drake gave information to a Baltimore Sun reporter who wrote “a prize-winning series of articles for the Sun about financial waste, bureaucratic dysfunction, and dubious legal practices” in the National Security Agency. After years of hounding, the case against Drake fell apart. It was simply the Department of Justice harassment in an attempt to make Drake an example of journalists who question the broad sweeping bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state. In this new state the data-mining of email correspondence of American citizens with out a warrant has resulted in the N.S.A.’s enormous electronic-storage facilities in Texas and Utah.

This is simply Orwellian in its massive scope and neither party seems to really want to do anything about it except to expand the government’s surveillance authority over U.S. Citizens. In April of 2009, officials at the United States Department of Justice acknowledged that the NSA had engaged in large-scale over-collection of domestic communications in excess of the federal intelligence court’s authority.

Documents leaked to the media in June 2013 described PRISM, a national security electronic surveillance program operated by the NSA, as enabling in-depth surveillance on live internet communications and stored information. Participants in the PRISM program including Microsoft in 2007, Yahoo! in 2008, Google in 2009, Facebook in 2009, Paltalk in 2009, YouTube in 2010, AOL in 2011, Skype in 2011 and Apple in 2012. In a briefing document reviewed by The Washington Post it was indicated that “98 percent of PRISM production is based on Yahoo, Google and Microsoft”. Considering the role that Data-mining plays in the advancement of Common-Core education and one of its largest proponents is Bill Gates, new questions about this Data-mining should be brought into this equation.

It also begs the question that when Government officials willfully withhold emails from Congress, shouldn’t that information be available through other sources or is Data-mining of Government officials immune? The conspirator mindset can easily go to the conclusion that all these hearings and breaking stories about the withholding of information from the American public in instances where Government Officials have broken the law are nothing more than a dog and pony show…a distraction for the American people as the government ramps up surveillance on those people.

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, during a recent visit to Concord, New Hampshire stated:

And here’s the first thing I would do if I were president of the United States. I wouldn’t let Congress leave town until we fix this. I would literally use the military to keep them in if I had to. We’re not leaving town until we restore these defense cuts. We are not leaving town until we restore the intel cuts.  

The expansion of powers to government through section 1031 of the NDAA does apply to American citizens in the arrest and unlimited detention without warrant or due process. Senator Graham made that clear on the Senate floor saying: “1031, the statement of authority to detain, does apply to American citizens and it designates the world as the battlefield, including the homeland.”

The argument made by legislators is that this only involves Americans suspected of acts of terrorism against the United States but those were the same charges advances about whistle-blower Thomas Drake which was proven in a court of law to be unfounded. If this is pursued, how would the American people know if the individuals arrested were actually guilty of terrorism?  Without due process the government can accuse anyone without having to provide evidence of their claim putting us in a place similar to the pre-revolutionary Writs Of Assistance that many belief gave birth to the American Revolution.   Are we simply supposed to take their word for it?

Certainly our government needs to have certain powers in the tracking of known and actual terrorist activity in our Country but we are talking about a government that has repeatedly lied to us about terrorist threats; we are talking about a president who is reluctant to call any act of terrorism conducted by a Muslim affiliated group an act of terrorism; we are talking about an Administration and Department Of Justice who willfully lied to the American People about the events in Ferguson that inflamed race riots; we are talking about a government involved in arming hostile drug cartels that have infiltrated America Cities and a Government that praised the Arab Spring that empowered ISIS.

The Federal Government is holding American citizens to a standard they are not willing to apply to themselves. Laws intended to hold the Federal Government accountable to the people are blatantly ignored and journalists who attempt to expose the actions are being intimidated by the Government as well as by members of their own profession. Sharyl Attkisson, author and former investigative correspondent in the Washington bureau for CBS News, alleges in her book Stonewalled: One Reporter’s Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington (Harpers) of the medias protection of the Obama administration by not giving enough coverage to such stories as the 2012 Benghazi attack and slow initial enrollments under Obamacare. Atkisson alleges that her personal and work computers had been “compromised” for more than two years. Attkisson stated that CBS News had investigated and found evidence of multiple unauthorized accesses by a third parties in late 2012 yet CBS did little to defend their reporter.

“Sometimes they threaten you with something – something you can’t stand up to, can’t even think about. And then you say, “Don’t do it to me, do it to somebody else, do it to So-and-so.” And perhaps you might pretend, afterwards, that it was only a trick and that you just said it to make them stop and didn’t mean it. But that isn’t true. At the time when it happens you do mean it. You think there’s no other way of saving yourself, and you’re quite ready to save yourself that way. You WANT it to happen to the other person. You don’t give a damn what they suffer. All you care is yourself.”

― George Orwell, 1984

The path we are on is a very dangerous path

 “In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable—what then?”

― George Orwell, 1984


PA Education: Misguided Funding Cuts or Misguided Funding Mechanisms?

Misguided Funding Cuts or Misguided Funding Mechanisms?

“The fact of the matter is that school districts across Pennsylvania are struggling as a result of misguided funding cuts that have starved our classrooms of resources and put our children at a disadvantage. “ (From Governor’s Wolf’s official website concerning the resignation of David Meckley.)

This has been Governor Wolf’s mantra since the campaign; those archaic cuts to education under the Corbett Administration. The problem with the claim is that it isn’t true. There were cutbacks in education spending by the state during the Rendell Administration as a result of President Obama’s Stimulus money but in each year Corbett actually increased education funding at the state level. In the first budget proposed by Corbett after he came to office in 2011. School districts received about $860 million less in funding (including federal stimulus grants) for the 2011-2012 school year than they did the year before.

But the previous two years of education funding were propped up by $1.3 billion — $654 million each year — from the federal stimulus. More than half of that federal money supplanted previous state funding (meaning the state contributed less those two years, but the school districts got more). In other words, state dollars were replaced by federal dollars — and then some — to get states through the recession.

Under Corbett, a larger share of state funding went toward school employee pensions than in years past, due to a large increase in the obligations to the retirement system (set by the state Legislature). So while more money was going toward education, less was making its way to the classrooms.

Pennsylvania school districts aren’t struggling because of a result of misguided funding cuts that have starved out classrooms of resources. Pennsylvania school districts are struggling because of Pension costs and other unfunded mandates like Healthcare costs that is starving our classrooms.

Pennsylvania ranks the 13th highest in the nation on per student spending, $13,340 in 2012 — the latest data available from the U.S. Census. That’s well above the national average of $10,608 per pupil .   Breaking that down to state vs local per student spending, that’s $5,813 in per-pupil dollars coming from the state in Pennsylvania and $8,967 coming from local sources, primarily the school property tax.   When you look at this nationwide, Pennsylvania ranks the 6th highest in the nation for education funding from local taxation through the property tax. (Source: Center for Opinion Research, Floyd Institute for Public Policy, Franklin & Marshall College. Franklin & Marshall College Poll. 14 May 2014.

A quick analysis of the latest per-pupil expenditures and PSSA scores by Pennsylvania school districts show almost zero correlation.  Even for someone who thinks there is little relationship between spending and achievement, this complete lack of correlation is surprising, as students from wealthy households perform better academically, and the perception is wealthy districts spend more per pupil.

A recent study from the Math and Science Partnership of Greater Philadelphia on Pennsylvania school performance (specifically the 11th grade PSSAs) across school districts reports similar results.  Namely, they find that demographic factors (residents with bachelor’s degrees, percentage of minority students, and percentage of low-income students) are correlated with academic performance.  However, instructional expenditures per-pupil was not significantly correlated with academic performance and total spending per-pupil was negatively related to academic performance.

On a national level, there is also very little relationship between spending and related inputs and results.  The American Legislative Exchange Council’s 2009 Report Card on American Education, comparing spending and performance across the 50 states, finds:

Surprisingly, the data show that academic achievement cannot be accounted for by any of the measures of public investment used in this study (pupil-teacher ratio, per pupil expenditures, teacher salaries, and funds received from the federal government), either singly or as a blend. This conclusion is borne out when variations in average SAT scores per state are tracked over the past two decades alongside changes in these measures of public investment. If anything, this statistical analysis demonstrates a positive, but weak, relationship between student success and percentage of federal funding, and pupil-teacher ratio – yet not in the manner one would anticipate.

From 1980-81 to 2007-08, Pennsylvania taxpayers increased spending on public schools by $20 billion, or 400%.  In per-pupil terms, after adjusting for inflation, Pennsylvania public school spending increased 125%, from $6,000 per pupil (in 2009 dollars) to almost $14,000. Yet performance has not doubled or even improved dramatically. SAT scores have remained stagnant over the past 30 years. (Source: Costing-Out the Price of Education by NATHAN BENEFIELD)

student scores2(Note on chart: This is an imported graphic and the word precent should be percent. I’m reproducing it as it originally appeared!)

The above chart demonstrates a stark contrast between statistics being released by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as contrasted to statistics from the National Center for Education. It also raises the question of why proficiency ratings drop from 4th to 8th grade in math for any given year. We do seem to be failing our students in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania but it isn’t for lack of money.

The pension debt problem is going to keep growing and that’s going to result in dramatic increases, especially in the school property tax.  This year the employer contribution to PSRS will go from 16% to 21.4%.  It is estimated that this will add an additional $250 million dollars to statewide education costs.  Even if we shift to a 401(k) system that won’t stop the pension problem for existing teachers. It will help but its a band-aid, not a real solution.

We have a first in-last out policy based on seniority, not merit.   The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics documents the loss of more than 23,000 education jobs in Pennsylvania through the end of 2012. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages). According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, nearly 11,000 professional positions were lost in just three years (2010-2011 to 2013-2014) (PDE: 2010-2011 Professional Personnel Summary and 2013-2014 Professional Personnel Summary, http://www.pde.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/professional_and_support_personnel/7429).  Even with the cuts to staff, the pension problem still grows. All future cuts in education employment, unless the first in-last out policy is changed, will result in the new hires under the 401(k) programs losing their jobs doing little to alleviate the existing pension problem.

It’s not just the Pension Tsunami.  The PASA-PASBO Report on School District Budgets was released this month (February) and includes some statistics that we should be aware of before we buy into this whole reduction scheme.  You can read the full report here (http://www.pasa-net.org/BudgetReportFeb2015.pdf)

Healthcare costs:  In the last five fiscal years, 93 percent of respondent districts have faced increased health care costs at least once. Looking specifically at increases from 2013-2014 to the current fiscal year, 81 percent of respondent districts reported higher costs, with a median increase of six percent.

Special Education Funding: Ninety-one percent of respondent districts reported increased special education costs at least once since 2010-2011. And while the state’s 2014-2015 education budget included an additional $20 million for special education (the first increase in special education funding from the state in six years), these resources were not enough to offset rising mandated costs at the district level. Seventy-eight percent of respondent districts reported increased special education expenditures in 2014-2015, with a median increase of seven percent over 2013-2014.

This report explains that since 2008-2009 the School Property Tax has increased  an statewide average of 16%. Ninety-one percent of respondent districts have raised taxes at least once over this span, and in every fiscal year, more than 60 percent of respondent districts raised property taxes. Notably, there has been a steady, three-year uptick in the frequency of tax increases since 2012-2013.

The summary of this report includes this alarming statement: A recent quantitative analysis presented at the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute of Politics and Temple University’s Center for Regional Politics showed that basic assumptions around revenues and expenditures would find 50 percent of Pennsylvania districts without the funds needed to meet mandatory costs by fiscal year 2017-2018.

Governor Wolf’s increase in education funding isn’t addressing the real problems. We consistently hear the mantra that “it’s all about the children” and it should be but the majority of education funding isn’t going into the classrooms: it goes to administrative costs, salaries, pensions and benefits. If increasing the administrative part of education as well as the salaries, benefits and pensions of teachers actually provided better education, wouldn’t the statistics bear that out. Then why don’t they?

School districts are being forced into more and more compliance to state and federal regulations. I don’t think that’s because that’s what they want to do. I really do think they are concerned with the quality of education the students are receiving. On one hand they struggle with compliance to the growing unfunded mandates and with the implementation of Common Core and the Federal Involvement, those issues just keep growing. On the other hand they have to deal with the demands of the powerful teacher’s unions. Nobody wants to see a strike. A teacher’s strike disrupts the classroom and places additional burdens on working parents.

Teacher’s should be compensated for educating our children. There are a lot of good teachers out there but, just as it is in any profession, there are bad teachers as well. This can be especially damaging at the elementary levels where an underperforming teacher will have an entire classroom for a large percentage of the day through that entire school year. A Student who is already struggling before they wind up in that teachers classroom can suddenly find themselves further behind and ill-prepared to move on to the next level. There has to be a better way and if its all about the children, they deserve that much.

Simply throwing money at the problem isn’t a solution. It never has been. All that ever creates is the need for more money. It also time to stop the partisan bickering and address the real problems when it comes to education. There needs to be more accountability to the parents and to the students when it comes to education. A lot is said about local control when it comes to education but when it really comes down to it, parents have less to say about their children’s education then ever before.

The shift to Common Core is creating classrooms without textbooks that further prevents parents from observing what their children really are learning.   The number of teachers opposing Common Core is growing and some of those really good teachers have given up and left the education profession feeling they are no longer actually teaching the children, just handing out packets and forms for the children to be filled out.

The real burden of all this education funding comes back on the taxpayers in the Commonwealth. The shift away from state funding to local funding through the property tax has created a legislative accountability loophole that allows for special interest please for education that costs more money but provides very little proven results.

The property tax has become the enabler. Without it Common Core, the Pension Tsunami, the Union Control over education and countless other problems wouldn’t exist. We know there is a problem with prevailing wage in inflating the cost of building projects but as long as the property tax exists, nothing has to be done about because the burden will always fall on the local school district to raise our taxes. Why would the state have to worry about increase administrative or curriculum costs if they aren’t the ones who have to increase out taxes to pay for them? Just throw it down to the local school district and blame them for the tax increases.

There are more than enough opponents to School Property Tax elimination that say that we have to fix the other problems first but the problem with that argument is that as long as the school property tax exists, they don’t have to fix the problem.

Eventually they’ll have to do something but by then it will be too late for all the people who have lost their homes or were forced into foreclosure or bankruptcy as a result of sky-rocketing property taxes. Where do you start: fix the funding formula; fix the pension; fix prevailing wage; fix paycheck protection; cap education spending; create more merit based teacher accountability; remove all exemptions under Act 1 and go to a full voter referendum on all increases in local education spending; abolish Common Core or whatever else you can think of?   As long as the property tax exists, the governor and the legislative bodies have no real need to fix those problems because they aren’t the one who have to raise our taxes to pay for them….under the current system, that’s the responsibility of the school district.   For many, that is what is really behind their opposition to school property tax elimination.

Others advocate for fixing this at the local level, as though that’s even possible. Even if it were, how do you fix this on 500 different fronts across the states. Electing financially responsible people to our school boards helps but it becomes an overwhelming task to maintain. Again, this assumes that all the spending problems are the fault of our school boards and that’s just not true.

It will take years to undo all those entanglements and for many families, those are years they don’t have. Those are families with children in their homes who face losing their home because they can no longer afford the local taxation but that’s okay because its all about the children. How hypocritical!   Equally hypocritical is the notion that its okay to evict a law-abiding senior from their home who has faithfully paid their taxes all their life and now can not enjoy their retirement and face losing a lifetime of investment in their home. It’s not just the investment, we are talking about people’s homes, a fundamental rights as surely as we have a right to life, liberty and an education.

The Governor started his education funding arguments on a false precept and he’s only expanding that that false precept by going down the reduction path while using the same rhetoric that Governor Rendell used to sell Pennsylvania on gambling to reduce property taxes.   Back then Governor Rendell said limited slots gaming approved last year would generate $1 billion for statewide property tax cuts.   Governor Rendell also advocated for expanding the sales tax to use the additional revenue to eliminate school property taxes. Rendell also advocated for an increase in the minimum wage.   More than a decade later and where is the reduction we were promised? School Property Taxes outpaced any relief we have seen from gambling revenue.

People who are growing desperate will hear the Governor’s proposal and may be tempted to fall for this illusion but just like Governor Rendell’s scheme, reduction doesn’t work because it doesn’t eliminate.   It’s not a more efficient or accountable system of taxation to completely replace the old one.   That always leaves us with more taxes, not relief.  This state NEEDS to eliminate to the property tax as a means of funding education through the school property tax and find a more equitable way to fund education.  They don’t have to look far because we’ve been trying to do for the last 3 years through HB/SB 76.

We do have an accountability to provide for the education of our children. The school property tax isn’t really a property tax, it’s just called a property tax. It’s an education funding tax. That accountability to fund education should be everyone’s responsibility. It shouldn’t be focused on one sector of society nor should it provide for exemptions of some at a greater expense to others. Education funding can never fairly be tied to property tax. It requires something different and that’s the beauty of HB/SB 76, the property Tax Independence Act. That’s why it will work.

Not only does HB/SB 76 provide the most fair source of education funding it caps education spending to the rate of inflation creating more accountability to how our money is spent while removing the legislative ability to pass down unfunded mandates forcing school districts to raise taxes so state legislators can claim they haven’t.

As a result, that accountability transfers into a requirement for the State Legislators to begin to fix the myriad of other problems associated with education funding because that responsibility is now squarely where it belongs, with the General Assembly, just like our Constitution says it should.

The Governor is on the right track but he isn’t finishing the race and that’s the problem. As a result the Commonwealth loses that race, or more importantly, it’s the tax payer’s loss. Get us all the way to the finish line. Eliminate the school property tax for the purposes of funding education and support HB/SB 76 in its entirety. Let’s make it happen now!



The Governor’s Property Tax Plan is the gift that you’ll keep paying for!


As more details of the Governor’s Property Tax plans come forward, the more reasons we have to be concerned about its implementation. During Governor Tom Wolf’s budget address on February 3 he said “My plan will cut property taxes by an average 50%. Homeowners will see a $1000 reduction in their property taxes. Many homeowners will see their property taxes eliminated completely.”

More recently The Governor said, according to ABC27 “I’m moving to a place where over 270,000 homeowners are gonna have no property tax at all for the purpose of funding education,” Wolf said Monday morning. “I’m not sure what’s not to like about that?” (http://abc27.com/2015/03/09/wolf-budget-proposal-called-tax-and-spend-shell-game-by-conservatives/]

At first glance that sounds like a large number. Well, according to the Census data, there are 3,462,512 owner occupied housing units in the state. Remembers, that’s owner occupied housing units, not people. What happens with the people in those other 3,200,000 owner occupied homes? Less than 8% of the owner occupied homes will have their taxes eliminated under the governor’s plan, according to the governor. There’s a lot to be concerned about if you aren’t in that 8% of the owner occupied homes. It turns out there is even a lot to be concerned about even if you are.

Revenue Secretary Eileen McNulty said Wolf’s plan “reduces property taxes more than 50 percent for many homeowners and eliminates them for 30 percent of senior homeowners” http://triblive.com/news/adminpage/7932941-74/wolf-tax-property#ixzz3U1VVNMGE. Eileen McNulty was one of Tom Wolf’s picks for his Cabinet (http://www.politicspa.com/pa-gov-wolf-announces-two-cabinet-selections/62690/)

Once again we see throwing numbers out without real points of reference. McNulty says “reduces property taxes more than 50 percent for many” but how many is many? 100,000 sounds like many but then again there are 3,462,512 owner occupied housing units. If we start to factor in owner occupied homes with 2 or more wage earners in that household, things don’t look nearly as promising. While it eliminates, or so McNulty claims, taxes on 30% of the Senior homeowners, what about the other 70% of the Senior Homeowners.

It seems there’s a lot of fuzzy numbers being thrown around to make the plan look like the best thing since sliced bread but once you start to scrutinize those numbers the fuzzy math doesn’t work.

The Trib Live article cited above quotes the governor’s spokesman, Jeffrey Sheridan as saying that Wolf’s plan “balances the budget and closes the deficit without the one-time gimmicks we are used to seeing.”

I take particular exception to that statement. Actually I find that statement to be somewhat offensive. It makes me feel like the Scarecrow when the Wizard tells him to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.  What will Governor Wolf do next year to offset the increases in school spending? Without something to cap that spending, especially related to school Pensions, Healthcare and Special Education costs, Education spending continues to outpace income growth. Remember that very uncomfortable looking Independent Fiscal Office Cumulative Growth Rates chart:

13 Governor Wolf’s plan does nothing to change this so it is a one time gimmick.  It is obvious to anyone that the Governor’s plan is an increase in the PIT and the Sales tax with no caps on Education Spending that will eliminate for some, reduce for some, and increase the tax burden for the majority.  In fact, the Governor keeps talking about spending more and more on Education and that’s going to take more and more from the School Property Tax.  It won’t take long before those who saw the brief benefit of this “gimmick” will watch it vanish in the wind while those who saw nothing will already be paying more than they are now.  In order to sell this “gimmick” the proponents are rolling out the same arguments we heard about the “Casino” relief, and there will be those who buy into the rhetoric or feel all warm and fuzzy inside with the homespun graphics being used to sell this plan. The Governor is certainly adept in using visual imagery to sell his plan but those smiling pictures of the Governor in a room full of children doesn’t change the fact that he plans to increase education funding and his PIT and Sales Tax expansion doesn’t add up the the amount he wants to spend.

That leaves the property tax and that means the School Property will not only increase, it will increase faster than the Cumulative Growth Rate chart above.  Yes, the Property Tax will take a dip next year and I’m sure there will be those praising the governor with political high-fives but what happens the year after that, and the year after that?

This is a tax reduction we can’t afford because it is a gimmick.  It’s not even really a tax reduction, it’s an illusion that comes with the political equivalent of Hocus Pocus when trying to sell the plan.  It only makes sense if you don’t really think about it.  When you do think about it you’ll quickly realize that yes, there is a man behind the curtain pulling all the strings and its not really magical at all;  it’s a gimmick.  One that will cost the tax payers dearly.





Governor Wolf’s plan has nothing in common with HB/SB 76

Governor Wolf’s has compared his property tax proposal to HB/SB 76 and many Pennsylvanians are falling for it. Don’t let this happen to you. Other than using the two main funding mechanisms The Governor’s Proposal has nothing in common with HB/SB 76. By using these two mechanisms, the Governor’s proposal would kill HB/SB 76.

During Governor Tom Wolf’s budget address on February 3 he said “My plan will cut property taxes by an average 50%. Homeowners will see a $1000 reduction in their property taxes. Many homeowners will see their property taxes eliminated completely.”

HB/SB 76 completely eliminates the school property tax for everyone, not just those chosen through the Governor’s massive scheme of socialized wealth redistribution. In fact under the Governor’s plan, while some homeowners may see not have to pay the property taxes far more property owners won’t see reduction at all even though they’d be paying a higher PIT and Sales Tax that is also expanded to cover more items.

The Governor calls for a 3.07 percent to 3.7 increase in the PIT that may also include a poverty exemption, according to a briefing document prepared by the administration. He also calls for  increasing the state sales tax in January 2016 from 6 to 6.6 percent while broadening what the tax applies to. He states his plan will raise will generate $3.2 billion for property tax relief. The total funds collected last year through the school property tax was $12.7 billion. The Governor’s proposal will only generate about one-fourth of that amount and yet he “promised” an average 50% reduction even going so far as to say that some properties will be completely eliminated. That’s the thing….by using an average for his claim, if one person gets no reduction and another has their taxes completely eliminated, that’s an average of 50%.  That is wealth redistribution but it’s wealth redistribution based on an assumed value of property, not based on actual income.

“To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.” — Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Milligan, April 6, 1816

Under the Governor’s plan 113 school districts would get the maximum benefit….there are 500 school districts. The 113 districts would see a reduction targeted at the median assessed property values. Once again, the median assessed value is an average where half of the homeowners are higher than the median assessed value and half are below it. That means that not all homeowners in that district will see the same amount of reduction. If there is money left after the first reduction a second reduction is applied that if distributed by lowering the millage rate; that’s if there is money left over. The complete breakdown of school district by school district allocation of funding can be found on an excel sheet available here:


As David Baldinger of the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition (PTCC) wrote “The percentage “relief” under the governor’s proposal ranges from 15.2% in the Mars SD in Butler County to 306.89% (no, this is NOT a typo!) in the West Greene SD in Greene County.”

He also complained that the plan rewards districts with the highest rates of state subsidies and low academic performance already. In Berks, for example, only Reading get the maximum break.  “It’s just another lousy redistribution of wealth scheme that hammers many homeowners for the benefit of the few,” Baldinger said.

Sen. David Argall, who introduced SB 76 to the Senate, agreed. “This really looks to me like a bait and switch, with a permanent increase in income (taxes), permanent increase in sales taxes, and a temporary decrease in school district property taxes. In a few years, those property taxes will grow and taxpayers will be left with higher income taxes, higher sales taxes and again, high school property taxes,” Argall predicted. “That doesn’t look like a good deal at all for anyone who pays school district property taxes in Pennsylvania.”

HB/SB 76 doesn’t work anything like Wolf’s redistributive scheme. HB/SB 76 eliminates the school property tax for everyone completely ending the tax. Wolf’s plan keeps property tax in place for the majority of Pennsylvania property owners. That means that any temporary reduction you may see can be dissolved by future increases in the school property tax. That will most assuredly happen because Wolf ‘s budget plan fails to address the Pension Tsunami, instead preferring to tax everyone else to provide for the Cadillac retirements of the Public Sector.

There are other differences:

  1. Governor’s Wolf’s plan does not cap future education spending. HB/SB 76 does.
  2. Governor’s Wolf’s proposal would not restrict future unfunded mandates. HB/SB 76 does.
  3. Governor’s Wolf’s proposal does not include a no-exemption voter referendum for all future school district spending. HB/SB 76
  4. Governor Wolf’s proposal does not include a clause stating that if the revenue collected exceeds the revenue needed there is a reduction in the PIT. HB/SB 76 does.
  5. Governor Wolf’s proposal does nothing to curtail future increases demanded by the Unions. HB/SB 76.
  6. Governor’s Wolf’s proposal is not a dollar for dollar revenue neutral tax shift HB/SB 76 is.
  7. Governor’s Wolf’s proposal does not include a lock box for the funding raised by the increases in PIT and Sales Tax. HB/SB 76 does.

It’s time for both the Governor and the media to stop repeating that the Governor’s proposal is similar to HB/SB 76. It’s not. It’s not even close.

The fact of the matter is that Governor’s Wolf’s promises sound an awful lot like the same promises that Governor Rendell made when he pushed for Gambling in the state. Like the promises made with virtually every “reduction” plan, Pennsylvania saw the property tax increase far outweigh any reduction we saw in the property tax.

HB/SB 76 was completely vetted by the Independent Fiscal Office. No other legislation has been vetted the way the HB/SB 76 has been but maybe they should.  Will the Governor’s Proposal receive equal scrutiny?

In my assessment, Governor Wolf’s proposal in the most progressive socialized system of wealth redistribution through taxation ever put before the Pennsylvania General Assembly.