I was recently in discussion with a friend who is trying to get a bill moving in the PA Legislature that addresses problems with spot assessments. Opposing lobbyists for the bill claim that his spot assessment bill targets landlords because their rent is controlled by the market and wouldn’t be able to increase rents as a result of school districts appeal to have an apartment complex assessed at a higher rate. Oddly enough, these same lobbyists also oppose SB 76 by claiming that tenants rent are directly influenced by increasing millage rates and that tenants pay property taxes through their rental agreements.
In looking closer at some of the opposition to the spot assessment bill, one of the lobbyists fighting against this legislation had actually be involved in the creation of a similar spot assessment bill that had previously been introduced. In fact, he helped create the bill. Now, working as a lobbyist for a different agency, he stands on the other side. Apparently its not the principle, just the agency paying him.
All of this smells of hypocrisy. The paycheck trumps principle where you can claim that increasing property taxes has no impact on tenants while at the same time claiming it does…it just depends on which bill they are talking about.
While legislators like to claim that there is no undue influence from lobbyists, you have to be a special kind of stupid to accept that if you watch hearings of the PA General Assembly. Hearings on bills are loaded with testimony from lobbyists but it is rare indeed that actual citizens actually get to have their voices heard. The average citizen, who doesn’t hold opinions because of the agency paying them, is just collateral damage in a system that seems to work harder and harder in controlling the people rather than recognizing the individual and inherent rights of the individual in this commonwealth.
The PA Legislators are about to go on yet another recess and another year has passed with no movement on SB 76, the Property Tax Elimination Bill. While I know that many legislators are working behind the scenes to move this legislation, I also know that there is a perception in the public that this bill is simply a carrot being dangled out there to help them through election cycles where they can make the campaign promise of support while not actually advancing the issue once elected or re-elected. As someone who stands in front of a room of supporters of SB 76, I have to tell you that its getting harder and harder to convince people that the perception is not reality. Actually, I’m finding it harder and harder to believe.
I understand that much of the problems we have with school taxes have little to do with the actual school boards since they are mandated to do certain things by the state which results in need for more revenue that they extract fro the community through property taxes. That being said, how many school board members actually consider community impact or even have the economic qualifications to understand the heavy impact of the ever increasing school property taxes. For that matter, how many of them actually comprehend the complexities of the fluctuating housing market or fair market values of property that they can make determinations that call for spot assessments on property because they don’t think they are getting enough money from that property. Spot assessments aren’t free, they come at a cost to the community and to the individuals especially if these reassessments require appeals through the established process.
I’ve heard the excuses that if we had more current county-wide assessments, the spot reassessments wouldn’t be a problem, but the facts simply don’t back up that claim. The flawed nature of property assessments leads to countless appeals and it doesn’t stop the spot assessments. They still happen as school districts target individual property to generate more revenue.
While this is happening in Pennsylvania, the problems with meeting the property tax obligations are not isolated here. In New Jersey a piece of legislation is moving that would allow seniors to “volunteer” to do work for the government in exchange for the possibility of a $1,000 reduction in their property taxes.
While this plan is spun to make it look like they are helping seniors, governments spends, taxpayers pay and those who can’t keep up would be essentially forced into indentured servanthood to the government if they want to keep their homes. Here in Pennsylvania we know that about 10,000 people a year find themselves behind on the property taxes facing possible property seizures. Actually that number is much higher and its increasing all the time. Will there be enough government jobs to accommodate all these people or will the government be picking the winners and losers.
Furthermore, isn’t there something ethically wrong in forcing people out of their own retirement to pay for taxes that provide for the early retirement of those in the public sector.
Let’s also understand something; it is the cost of government that is supposed to be the driving factor behind increasing property taxes. If they can’t reduce property taxes then they don’t have thousands of dollars to provide tax relief to “volunteers”. No, that money will be realized by raising the property taxes to pay for this “government program” essentially forcing more people to need the program which will force the taxes to continue to increase. This is what irresponsible government calls a solution. I call it further down the road to serfdom.