An Open Letter to Select Opponents of School Property Tax Elimination

“To place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take.”

~Thomas Jefferson



  1. Alliance For Children
  2. Chester County Food Bank
  3. Coalition Against Hunger
  4. Community Food Warehouse of Mercer County
  5. Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank
  6. Hunger-Free Pennsylvania
  7. Just Harvest: A Center For Action Against Hunger
  8. Lutheran Advocacy Ministry In Pennsylvania
  9. Pennsylvania Coalition to End Homelessness
  10. Pennsylvania Council Of Churches
  11. Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association

Each of you have recently been cited in a memo from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center as forces of opposition for the elimination of the school property tax as a means to fund education.

Let me begin by saying that I applaud your efforts in helping many in this Commonwealth and elsewhere.   What you are doing should be commended but at the same time, finding your opposition to the elimination of the school property tax is alarming to me.

As I look down over this list of opposing voices I see that many already enjoy a non-profit status which means that you aren’t required to pay property taxes.  I live in a city where 34% of the property is exempt from taxation directly associated to non-profits.  You do provide a valuable service to the community and I don’t believe your property should be taxed but I wonder what would happen to your ability to provide for the necessary resources and relief to do what you do if your property was taxed the way our homes are taxed.  If such a tax would make your existence more difficult why can’t you see what this tax is doing to many working families and the poor in this Commonwealth.

You also need to understand that 34% of the possible revenue to our city is removed from the revenue needs resulting in a need to get that revenue from the remaining 66% of the properties.  Again, I not asking that we tax your property, just asking you to understand the cost of your tax exemption on the rest of us.  My home town is no different from many other hometowns in the Commonwealth where non-profits can involve 1/3 to 1/2 of the existing property in any city.

Your tax-exempt status is made possible through the form of higher property taxes that are paid by many of the people you want to help.   That includes higher taxes on property plus a need for higher rents to pay the property tax applied through all rental costs.   This, in turn, creates a greater need for more subsidized programs from the government to subsidize the higher cost of the rent as well as to offset the rising taxes as a result of the very exemptions and reduction programs that are supposed to be helping.  Instead of solving the problem we are simply creating the need for more government programs which only succeeds in increasing our tax burdens.  Something is wrong with that kind of thinking to me.

As rents and taxes increase to provide for your exemptions. That leaves less disposable income from the people to donate to your causes making you more reliant on the government as this budget stalemate has proven.   This, to me, is little more than a vicious cycle that becomes a small but still a part of the rising costs of maintaining government placing additional burdens on the working families in our commonwealth; burdens that could be alleviated partially by eliminating the school property tax.

I look at the number of organizations here that deal with hunger and again I commend you for what you are doing but your opposition to freeing farms from the burden of school property taxation, where these crops that feed us all are grown, raises concerns for me.   While we understand that taxing nutritious food is counterproductive to helping the poor yet you would defend taxing the land that food is grown on; the production facilities that process that food for our consumption; the shipping companies that move that food across our Commonwealth; and, finally, the retail facility that make that food available for our consumption.  At each step of the way the property tax is impacting the cost of that food, once again, hurting the very people you want to help.

The same analogy can be made with regards to clothing.  We don’t want to see essential clothing taxed but yet we tolerate taxing the properties required to produce that clothing from farm to retailer. From our socks to our belts; from our pants to our shirts….the properties that provide these goods for us is already being taxed and those taxes result in higher prices on those goods.

How does property tax impact the cost of necessary medications that people use?  If we are taxing the land where the raw materials originate, then taxing the production facilities, taxing the shipping companies that transport those products and then taxing the retailers that house our pharmacies, aren’t we doing the same thing?

At each step of the way the end user is the one who is paying for these multiple layers of taxation through the property tax.

What I am also curious about is the notion that we don’t want to tax food; we don’t want to tax clothing;  we don’t want to tax medications…….but we do want to keep on taxing the homes….all these things are necessary for our survival but somehow, taxing the places where we live or taxing all of the properties in moving those goods necessary for our survival from field to consumer is perfectly fine with each and everyone of you.

10,000 people each year face losing their homes because of the property tax.  350,00 properties have been abandoned across the Commonwealth adding to the problem of blight and the cost of government.  Many are forced to sell their homes, if possible, because they can no longer afford to keep up with the taxes.  10’s of thousands more are facing foreclosure or bankruptcy where the rising property tax is a contributing factor.  The property taxes impact on rising rent costs are forcing families in our cities to make decisions to double up living in often over-crowded situations contributing to an instability in their home lives while adding to the cost of government in finding ways to help these families.

The burden of the property tax is forcing farmers to leave their farms even though many of those farmers have had that farm and that land in their families for decades.  That land is often purchased by developers who turn farm land that once produced food and the raw materials for our clothing into housing developments resulting in less food production. That results in the loss of family farm related jobs.   This also results in less family owned farm business in favor of the larger corporate farms that eliminates one of the cost controls that help keep food prices down….competition.

It is one thing when a farming families makes such a decision voluntarily.   It is quite another when that decision is forced because of the rising property taxes.

The burden of the property tax is a contributing factor in preventing family sustaining jobs from relocating to Pennsylvania.  The loss of these jobs means we have to find alternate and artificial government sponsored programs of providing for that loss of income.  Those programs require funding and that funding is coming from taxes.

With every business that leaves our communities after their Keystone Opportunity Exemption has expired; for every business that leaves this state because of the burden of the taxes; for every student who takes the investment in their education out of this state because of the uncomfortable tax climate here: the economic future of this Commonwealth becomes more uncertain.

The collection of this tax raises other concerns that seem to me to be counter-productive to your goals and objectives.  The collection of the taxes provides a discount or those who can afford to pay early.  There are many working families who simply can not afford to do so and are therefore unable to take advantage of the savings that are being offered to those who can afford to do so.  In essence, these families are being penalized because their personal income limits prevent them from doing what others can afford to do.   Then again, property tax has never been based on the individuals ability to pay so why should we think that any of the other components of the property should be based on that logic.

Somehow your opposition seems to be contrary to the very things you claim to be fighting for.

Those of us advocating for School Property Tax Elimination are not asking to be exempt from funding education the way in which your organizations are exempt.  We are simply asking for a shift to a different method of taxation that more fairly and accurately reflects ability to pay through a Personal Income and Sales/Use Tax.

For those in poverty and fully dependent on government through welfare and public assistance little will change.  There is no PIT tax from these people and purchases of food through SNAP (The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is required by law to remain tax exempt.  What you will be doing is easing their burden through elimination of the school property by removing a major component in the increase in their monthly rent. The necessities of clothing, all easily available for under $50 through a variety of outlets allows them a choice of deciding to remain tax exempt on their clothing purchases.

For many of them we are opening the door to a pathway out of poverty by creating a more job friendly environment in the Commonwealth opening more doors for family sustaining jobs.  For many others we are opening the door to move from renting their homes into home-ownership establishing roots in their communities without the fear of ever increasing property tax burdens that may eventually steal their homes from them.

We are also lifting this burden from families who face a major injury or illness that temporarily impacts their earning ability that would never be reflected in any reduction of the property taxes they owe and could easily result in placing them in a position of losing their homes.

Finally we are eliminating a tax that, as has been proven in the past, is far more regressive than other taxes.  For more information on the regressive nature of the property may I recommend the following previous postings related to this website and issue:

1. The Regressive Nature Of The Property Tax
2. Homeless Children

Note: Copies of this posting will be sent to each of the organizations listed at the start of this article.




4 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Select Opponents of School Property Tax Elimination

  1. Pingback: A tax on thee, but not for me – Beeblehead

  2. Reblogged this on Walkable Jenkintown and commented:
    Taxes and sidewalks and all else municipal are fair game for this blog. Pennsylvania’s whole system of government financing is completely out-of-whack for modern times. It should be said that property taxes in general are a 17th century solution to a 21st century problem.

  3. This is excellently written. Sad to say, many of our elected officials and politicians neither listen to, nor care for , We The People. In the days of The American Revolution, where Pennsylvania played such an important role, this gauging of homeowner’s rights would have been considered to be Taxation Without Representation

  4. Thoughtfully written. This helped give me a very different perspective on the issue. As a purely political matter, I wouldn’t be optimistic that our deeply dysfunctional legislature is going to do anything about this issue, but you make a compelling argument.

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