Article 1, Section 1 of our Commonwealth Constitution states that “All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent and indefeasible rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property and reputation, and of pursuing their own happiness.”
Article 1 is titled “Declaration of Rights” and this first item under our Commonwealth Constitution has remained virtually unchanged since the first Constitution enacted in September of 1776. The current funding mechanisms for generating the revenue for public education is no longer a system that protects the rights of the homeowner in acquiring, possessing and protecting their property. It is a system that punishes this right.
I will be dealing specifically with taxation to fund education in this article. to demonstrate that we are in violation of Article 1, Section 1.
On May 28th of this year an article on the Governor’s proposed education funding expansion, the Pocono Record reported:
(Governor) Wolf said there is a need to understand the investment that is education. There is a choice, he said, of supporting public education, but it comes with the cost of the taxes and the possibility of losing a home for some.
The Governor, like every other elected representative has taken an Oath of Office whereby they swear to uphold the Constitution of this Commonwealth. How does that statement align itself to Article 1, Section 1? There are no exception clauses attached to Article 1, Section 1….nowhere in the Constitution does it say this right is exempt when it comes to funding education
Opponents of eliminating the school property tax to a more fair and uniform system of education funding have often resorted to blaming the homeowners using the weak and insulting comment that people lose their homes because they bought too much house and they make such a statement by not putting any qualifiers on what they mean by that statement. How does a senior on a fixed income losing a home that has been paid in full for more than a decade but can no longer keep up with the demands of the school districts fit into this argument?
I would argue that it’s not too much home but too much spending on the part of government particularly considering that very little of the money paid to fund education is actually making it into the classrooms with more and more fundraisers becoming necessary to provide for classroom supplies.
Under the current system of Property Taxation to fund public education home owners in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania directly provide 12.7 billion (and constantly rising) for public education through the property tax. Since the Sales Tax also is used to provide for education spending, Home owners are also paying sales tax, some of that sales tax being generated from purchases directly connected to their homes. Appropriated money from the Budget that is used for Public Education is also coming out of the PIT of home owners as well.
Our Commonwealth Constitution (Article 8, Section 1) states “All taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be levied and collected under general laws.”
Since the goal of these taxes is for the purposes of funding public education, it is clear that there is a discriminatory approach in taxation when it comes to funding public education. It is also clear that there is nothing uniform in the use of property taxation to collect revenue for such a major portion of education. The inherently flawed system of assessment has been exposed through the court ordered re-assessments made evident through the successful appeals made to lower assessed values where home owners demonstrate other properties in their neighborhood of equal size were assessed at lower values.
The nightmare of a court ordered reassessment in Lebanon County 4 years ago is still dealing with assessment appeals. Home values, especially in the city, continue to drop and as home are sold at fair market prices, appeals continue to be made demonstrating that the assessed value of the home does not reflect the actual fair market value of the property. These appeals, in turn, require an increased millage rate to collect the replacement revenue from properties which have won their appeals. While other homeowners who may not be able to afford to go through the appeals process not only pay the higher milage rates but are also paying a higher assessed value on the property resulting in paying taxes on property they don’t actually own.
Recently an attempt was made to push through a Pension reform package that would have resulted in an increase of the PIT for working families in the Commonwealth. The increase in the PIT would have made it more difficult for some families to hold on to their homes as their school and other local property taxes continue to increase due to a series of unfunded mandates coming down from the State Legislators. The Legislators created an unsustainable pension system that will be impossible to fairly maintain. As system that allows for an extremely beneficial retirement system paid for through taxation that allows members of the public sector to retire early while forcing many in the private sector to work longer would seem to also be a violation of the Uniformity clause in our Constitution (Article 8, Section 1)
All taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be levied and collected under general laws.
Viewing it as acceptable collateral damage for citizens to lose their homes through taxation to provide for the early retirement of those in the public sector in a pension system that is beyond the scope of the majority in the private sector is certainly not within the framework of uniform taxation.
The argument may be made that these are different classes of subjects but we are talking about funding education here and if this is, as is accepted in this commonwealth, the responsibility of all her citizens, why is the burden so much great on the private sector, especially in regards to homeowners, when considering percentage of income. Clearly those in the public sector are unfairly benefiting at the expense of those in the private sector.
While we understand that conflicts of interest do arise in government, it becomes the responsibility of those with such a conflict to recuse themselves from voting for anything that would bring them personal benefit. School Board directors are somehow exempt from this. School Board directors routinely vote on wage increases that they will personally benefit from through a spouse or other family member. Outside of the School Board such an action would be considered a felony.
Let’s look at another part of our Commonwealth Constitution with regards to Eminent Domain, Article 1, Section 10 (also under our Declaration of Rights)
nor shall private property be taken or applied to public use, without authority of law and without just compensation being first made or secured.
When a property is seized because of non-payment of school property taxes it is sold with the singular purpose of collecting the back taxes on that property. Since this tax is for public use through the public school system, why isn’t just compensation considered on that property? Shouldn’t the assessed value of that property be guaranteed to the home owner in the selling of that property? Shouldn’t that be the first priority?
Now detractors will jump on board and claim that this is specifically dealing with properties purchased in Eminent Domain seizures but that’s dealt with elsewhere in our Constitution such as Article 10, Section 4, not here.
In the seizing of property for the inability to keep up with the tax demands the question of “Due Process” needs to be considered as well.
When property is seized the home owner is treated with less regard than that the common criminal. Even a criminal who robs a banks, has clearly been identified as doing so with witnesses and being arrested on the scene of the robbery has more protections than a home owner who falls behind on their school property taxes.
Article 1, Section 9: In all criminal prosecutions the accused hath a right to be heard by himself and his counsel, to demand the nature and cause of the accusation against him, to meet the witnesses face to face, to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and in prosecutions by indictment or information, a speedy public trial by an impartial jury of the vicinage; he cannot be compelled to give evidence against himself, nor can he be deprived of his life, liberty or property, unless by the judgment of his peers or the law of the land.
This simply doesn’t exist anywhere in the seizure of property for the crime of being unable to keep up with the demands of the tax collectors.
The home owners aren’t losing their homes because they bought too much house, in most cases they lose their homes because they can no longer afford to provide for the extortions of government in the provisions of pensions and benefits that are far above anything in the private sector. That makes the home owner a criminal, or worse, with less rights than a criminal.
For young families just starting out in life where the property tax prevents them from home ownership, they are denied the right of acquiring, possessing and protecting their property because they can not afford to provide for the exorbitant demands of a public sector wage, pension and other benefits.
Other families have struggled to do what was necessary and while at first able to provide for the property taxes find themselves after a very short time of 5 to 10 years in a position where the increased demands of the tax collector far exceeding their own wage increases and now that family and their children are to be tossed out in the streets as part of the collateral damage of these failed and flawed tax policies. No, it’s not too much house, its too much taxation in the results of an unfair protection of those in the public sector at the expense of criminalizing those in the private sector.