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:

http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=H&SPick=20150&cosponId=17912

 

 

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

  1. At a time when people are desperate for more transparency in Government, this bill advances a proposal that would allow for a lack of transparency. Using the dislike of the property tax to advance a bill that gives the Legislators Carte Blanche to do anything they want in regards to the replacement funding is insulting to me. With no limits on what they can do, they can do anything.

    The possibility of shifting the collection of taxes for County and Municipal government to the state would be a violation of the principle of separate and equal powers that framed this nation and this Commonwealth.

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