Understanding HB1285

There has been a lot of discussion about a constitutional amendment that will appear on the ballot this November through the passage of HB1285

The proposal will amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to enable local taxing jurisdictions to double their homestead exclusion from 50 to 100 percent of the assessed value of one’s property. Right now, taxing jurisdictions (counties, municipalities, school districts) can authorize a tax exemption of up to 50 percent of a property’s median assessed value.

The amendment bill, House Bill 147, passed last session and has gotten second approval in this session in the form of House Bill 1285, which contains the same language, so it will now go to a voter referendum. This means you’ll see a question about it on ballots this fall.

The amendment passed unanimously in the House (190 votes with 13 members on leave) and, in the Senate passed with 45 yes votes, 2  no votes and 2 members not voting.

It should be noted that the Homestead/Farmstead Exclusion Amendment is a separate matter from actual legislation to force the issue.   The exclusion amendment provides local taxing bodies the option to choose an increased exclusion for taxation which they would have to find from other sources.  It is believed that this amendment would allow for the creation of legislation that could target homestead/framsted property for tax exclusion.

Currently there are no school districts making use of the 50% exclusion so its unlikely that any school district will go to a 100% exclusion.  However, there are County and Municipal governments in the Commonwealth who are utilizing this.  In our fight for school property tax elimination we need to remember that county and municipal property taxes remain and we should be working on seeing that these property taxes are also eliminated.

I firmly believe that, for the County and Municipalities, a more local option is required.  This could create a path to move towards the elimination of property taxes at the County and Municipal levels.

Voting no on this bill would prevent County and Municipalities from enacting a 100% exclusion of property taxes funded through other local means.  It would also prevent the possibility of legislation from making that happen from the state level.

There are those who say that if you vote yes on this, you aren’t supporting HB/SB 76 because no schools will enact it. The statement is only partially true.  No school will enact it is true, but it is still possible to support both this amendment and HB/SB 76. I do support 76 and will continue to fight for its enactment.

I believe that we can utilize the amendment in a way that can actually strength our voice in the call for complete elimination.

Let’s understand the strategy.

As we have seen throughout the process of trying to get 76 passed opposition will go to great lengths to misrepresent the truth about legislation.  Unfortunately, we don’t get to explain our yes or no vote when we vote.  This then creates a window of opportunity for those who oppose us to interpret that vote how they want.

We know that the opposition to 76 is salivating for this amendment to get voted down so they can say they offered 100% elimination to everyone and the voters turned it down.  They will reinforce the false narrative that the public doesn’t want to see elimination.

This is one of the reasons that I believe that a no vote on the amendment can have unintended and disastrous consequences.

The passage of this amendment through a supporting Yes vote will open some doors for us.  That’s always a good thing.  It allows for us to work with legislators to push for a bill that will bring elimination to homestead and farmstead at the County and Municipal level while still pushing for HB/SB 76 to completely eliminate the school property tax.

As with any bills of this nature, the devil will be in the details. That, however, if not the case with the Constitutional Amendment.  There are no details other than it expands the current 50% exclusion to allow for a 100% exclusion. It requires a Constitutional amendment because the Constitution currently does not allow for this through the legislative process.

How that happens will require separate legislation.  We can close doors in opposition to the amendment which will make it harder for us to work with legislators providing oversight on any future bills that come about as a result of the passage of the Amendment.  A yes votes provides us with an opportunity to work towards the complete elimination of all property taxation in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

There is an old expression that says we need to be careful that we do not throw out the baby with the bath water.  I fear that voting no on this amendment to show support for elimination only through HB/SB 76 is an example of the above expression.

Common sense and strategy must prevail and we must continue to make use of every opportunity available to us to advance the issue of complete and total elimination of ALL property taxation.

Critics of the amendment are calling this a distraction.  That may very well have been the intention but its also an opportunity if we take advantage of it and do so wisely.

There are a handful of legislators and some of us advocating for elimination on the inside who see this opportunity and are trying to get ahead of the curve to develop the legislation we will need to make it happen.


Nothing I’m saying here should be misconstrued as full support of the amendment.   I do have some concerns but I want to stay engaged in the process so that there is a potential to work on future legislation that could bring us the complete elimination of all property taxes and to do so in a way that has our input and direction.

Nobody understands this issue the way we do.  We have been able to target and focus on this issue in ways that our legislators and special interest opposition have not.  They are looking at multiple issues.  We have laser focused on the property tax issue and we understand the problems in far greater depth because of it.

I encourage you to vote yes on the amendment and then to stay with us in this fight until we get government completely out of our homes through the elimination of ALL property taxation.

As this process continues legislation will come forward and we will need to judge each piece of legislation on its merits or pitfalls.  A vote yes on the amendment does not mean we must also approve of or support any piece of legislation that will follow.  Just as we have successfully fought against any property tax effort that is flawed or fails to accomplish what it claims, we must continue in that vigilance.

In the end, I still firmly believe that the passage of HB/SB76 is the real solution when it comes to the school property tax.

Let’s lead by example in Pennsylvania by first showing the rest of the states what can and should be done and then show them how to do it successfully!

One final thought:  The opposition to HB/SB76 has demonstrated that their opposition to the legislation has little to do with their excuses and much more to do with things they don’t want to say out loud.  I believe that the notion that the Homestead/farmstead will eliminate this opposition is foolish.  I believe they will oppose anything that seeks to eliminate property taxation and the Homestead/Farmstead exclusion may well allow us to expose more of the hypocrisy of their arguments!




Budget Crunch: Time to contact our Senators

I generally use this blog to write about the fallacy of property taxation in Pennsylvania but I want to tackle something a little different this time.

On Wednesday of last week the house passed a revenue package that calls for no new taxes.  It fills the budget gap by utilizing funds that have been sitting in limbo in accounts of special interest controlled agencies of government hidden away from public scrutiny.  Frankly, these is simply too much of this happening in Pennsylvania.  What good is the office of the Auditor General if they have no power to enforce the recommendations when things like this are exposed through internal audits?

The bill (HB453) just narrowly passed in the house with only 103 votes.

The opposition to this budget revenue proposal has begun rallying the troops to launch a massive campaign to tell Senators to reject this common sense budget that is looking out for the working families of Pennsylvania.  That’s not how they tell it.

If you listen to them they’ll tell you the world is coming to an end if this revenue bill passes.  Using gross misrepresentation they tell a tale of utter catastrophe if this revenue bill actually becomes part of  the funding mechanism of this years budget. What they won’t say is that the alternate is higher taxes, including higher taxes on home heating fuel.  Hey, if you can’t afford to pay your home heating bill after they attack you with new taxes and you have freeze through the winter months, so be it, so long as these agencies of government have large reserves on hand to use for whatever they want with no accountability to us whatsoever.

We’ve seen this same type of misrepresentation used to do everything they can to defeat the common sense school property tax elimination bill.  It doesn’t matter to them how many people have to lose their homes to fund the pension debacle; it doesn’t matter how many seniors have to remain in the workforce so long as those in the public sector don’t have to!

I am beyond angry!

If we stay silent the opposition will win this in the Senate.  We have a handful of Senators who will support HB453 but they need to hear from us to know we have their back.  Trust me, they are hearing from the opposition.  All our Senators need to hear from us!  We should be just as coordinated as those who want to perpetuate the legal plunder of our tax dollars!

We all need to understand that money was allocated to these special interest controlled agencies who took that funding.  Instead of steering that money to programs that were intended to help people in Pennsylvania, including the poor, veterans and farmers, they tucked a portion of that money away into accounts that were away from the scrutiny of the public and the legislators.

As Rep. Russ Diamond stated on the house floor, it was like hiding the money in Mason Jars in the back yard.

These bureaucracies are under the executive office and once appropriated they see little oversight. We should be grateful for PA Rep. Frank Ryan who was the prime on HB453 and other House members who worked diligently to bring this issue to light.  It is, after all, never too late to do the right thing!

The work that was done to find this money by a handful of house members is to be commended.  They bucked the status quo to give us a budget utilizing money that is already there but is not being used for the purposes the money was intended.  They stood up to those who want to see us paying higher taxes; to those who see the taxpayer as the unending revenue stream to milk dry; to those who look at those being devastated by their plundering practices as mere collateral damage of their own personal gain.  The legislators who stood up to them and said no more deserve our support.

While most legislators were on their summer hiatus, these legislators spent the summer in Harrisburg trying to actually balance a budget without raising taxes.  They did so by digging  through these agencies to discover this money not being utilized by the agencies other than to build large reserve funds with some of it in interest bearing accounts.  Opposition wants us to be angry at those who want to hold these agencies accountable to the people.  Our anger should be directed, instead, to the agencies that were doing this to all of us!

As Frederic Bastiat declared: “When plunder becomes a way of life, men create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”

While the rest of us are expected to pay more and more with less and less, these agencies wanted to protect themselves at our expense.  How are we to trust an agency of government in place to help Pennsylvanians when they participate in the plunder of the very people they claim to want to help?

They have no problem with us having to cut back even more so long as they can protect their own extortion of our money.

Contact Information for the Senators in Pennsylvania can be found here: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/contact.cfm?body=S

Just click on the email icon next to their name to let them know they need to pass HB453 as written.  Tell them that drastically altering the bill (HB453) or voting against it will follow them all the way in to the voting booth.

Together was can all make a difference so speak up NOW!   Don’t let these special interests win while they continue to plunder us for their gain!


When misguided public opinion honors what is despicable and despises what is honorable, punishes virtue and rewards vice, encourages what is harmful and discourages what is useful, applauds falsehood and smothers truth under indifference or insult, a nation turns its back on progress and can be restored only by the terrible lessons of catastrophe.

~Frederic Bastiat

The Insatiable Jaws Of The Property Tax.

Last night my wife and I decided to settle in and watch an older movie.  The movie we choose to watch was 1975’s Jaws.  Neither of us had seen it for a while so we kicked back for an evening of diversion from politics and everything else.

Everything was fine and the movie was serving our goals of diversion and then came the part of the movie where Quint retells the story of the U.S.S. Indianapolis.

Quint explains how 1100 men went into the water as their ship sank.  The nature of their mission was so secret that their perilous position they were in went unnoticed for over a week.  The attempts to rescue them would have to wait until somebody who could do something about it gave the necessary orders that would save their lives.

While the men in the water waited for that to happen the sharks came and the men were essentially unable to avoid the inevitable.  The sharks came and did what they do taking life after life of the men stranded in the water.

When the attempts at rescue finally came, they didn’t save them all in one miraculous scoop.  Each had to wait their turn and with each group of men saved the number of men still in the water lessened but the number of sharks in the ocean remained the same, greatly increasing the odds of becoming the sharks next victim.  As Quint tells it “That was the time I was most frightened.  Waitin’ for my turn.”

Quint ends his story by saying 1100 men went into the water and 316 men came out.

The story Quint tells is an important part of the movie in that it explains his passion and anger concerning sharks.

I’d seen the movie Jaws many times over the years since its original release but as I sat there watching it last evening the story of the Indianapolis took on a whole new depth and meaning for me.

Watching Quint delivery that monologue as only Robert Shaw could have done really got to  me.  I heard in a way I’d never heard it before and at first I didn’t realize why.   It was going through my head over and over again.  I woke up early this morning and realized why.

Quint’s story is a perfect metaphor for the school property tax.

A few days ago I sat in a room during a town hall to defend the need for the elimination of the property tax as a means to fund education.  It’s not the first time for me or for the others who were there with me who believe as I do.  We were there with those who oppose the elimination of the property tax for the purpose of funding education.  It was also not the first time that took place.

Every time I’ve been with opposition I feel as though the casualties of the those who lost their homes to this egregious tax are the ignored victims of a system that seeks only to satisfy itself.  If someone is a victim of that system, so be it.

I made a conscious decision that I would not leave the room that night without reminding everyone about the victims of the property tax.  I was going to put a face on those victims.

As was pointed out during that town hall, the struggle to eliminate the property tax has been going on since the late 1600’s.   Those who have to pay the tax have a natural affinity against it.  The school property tax, however, has not existed since that time.  It’s a relatively new beast in the waters of the property tax and since it’s inception has become the ravenous beast that it is often  to the point of being 2/3 of the entire property tax burden.

The growing numbers of people at risk to losing their homes isn’t because of the county and municipal taxes.  It’s the school tax.

When we talk about the school property tax, the opposition rarely chooses to even mention the victims.  When they do, it’s almost like a “too bad for them” attitude.

While Michael Woods of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center earned a notable reputation for putting that sentiment into words stating “10,000 people a year losing their homes is not a significant enough number to do something about it!” the sentiment is still always there.  The victims of the property tax are the collateral damage of the school property tax almost as though they really don’t matter.

For 35 years we’ve fought, in some form or another, to eliminate the school tax and at every step of the way there is the opposition who tell us they know the property tax is a problem but they fight back against any real attempts to reform it.  As long as they can shield their eyes and not look into the faces of those devastated by this tax, it really doesn’t matter.  It’s just numbers, not people…at least not people they know.

The part of Quint’s monologue that struck me the most was his statement about the rescue attempts.  As some were rescued, there were fewer and fewer men in the water but the ravenous appetite of the sharks did not decrease.  They would come to feed, to take what they wanted whether there were 1100 men or 500 men in the water.

Over the years there have been several programs established by government that exist in the form of targeted relief.  There are those in Harrisburg who won’t support total elimination but are still pushing for some form of targeted relief.

Every time they do this, the number of sharks stays the same with less and less people to go after.  Every time they do this they still don’t alleviate the risk of becoming a victim for those still in the water.

For those still in the water, the risk increases.

Then the opposition has the audacity of talking about winners and losers as though there are no losers under the current system; as though already fallen victims don’t really matter.

To my way of thinking, these targeted relief systems are just Harrisburg’s way of picking potential victims.  To me, targeted relief simply means moving a smaller target off some to put a larger target on others.

The only winners are those who are out of the water; the one who no longer have a target on their back.  The ones still in the water have a potential of becoming the next victim.  They’re still in the losing arena facing the sharks.

I look at the property tax and see the opposition and feel almost as though they think that this dangerous beast is a protected species and they don’t care how many victims the property tax takes because the property tax is only doing what it is designed to do.  All that matters to them is that they have special protections so that the property tax doesn’t do it to them.

I’ve always looked at the school property tax as a predatory tax and, in the past, through this blog, I’ve referenced those predatory institutions that have arisen because there is a property tax.

At the time I got into this fight my next door neighbor was struggling.  The economic recession had hit home and hit them very hard.  Labor cutbacks resulted in his losing his job and he made several attempts to get back in the workforce or at doing odd jobs  in an effort to hold on to their home.

Him and I had become very good friends and our wives used to refer to us as Tim Allen and Wilson from the TV show “Home Improvement” because we spent a lot of time outside talking to one another over a fence.

They lost that fight.  They were forced into bankruptcy because of the property tax.  They lost their home and moved back to their hometown in Pittsburgh to live with family members until they could get back on their feet.

He told me several times that it wasn’t the mortgage, it was the tax.  Without the property tax they could have stayed in their own home.

When his home was finally sold it was sold for pennies on the dollar and the new owners filed an appeal and got a lower tax rate than what was available to my friend.

He was the first face I saw to become a victim of the property tax.  He wouldn’t be the last.  Their home sat empty for 7 years, passing hands from mortgage company to mortgage company before it was finally sold.

Those faces and the stories associated to those faces now numbers in the hundreds.  I have not attended a single town hall where I haven’t heard personal horror stories.

Why doesn’t that happen to the opposition?

Well, for one reason, until these most recent town halls, the opposition never had to sit in a room full of frustrated taxpayers who are still in the waters waiting for the sharks to come while also waiting to see the rescue they need.

That’s just not the opponents world.  From the school boards who can so regulate the control of the dialogue of a public meeting to the special interests who appear as invited guests of people who aren’t meeting to talk about the property tax or to fill the marbled halls of the state Capitol.  In some cases their economic station in life prevents them from seeing what so many of us have already seen.

These town halls have brought them out to face the victims.  These town halls have brought them out to hear from the public.  We have yet to hold a town hall like this with legislators and opposition where, no matter how divided the room at the onset on this legislation, there is overwhelming support by the meetings end.  We’ve yet to lose the debate in the eyes of the public.

Maybe that’s why so many legislators are so reluctant to held them in their own districts.

That’s why we hear ridiculous statements like ‘They lost their home because they bought too much house.”  or “10,000 people losing their homes isn’t reason enough to do anything about it.”  As long as they don’t have to look into the face of the victims of the property tax they can continue to pretend they are just numbers, not people.

That wont last forever though.  Eventually the number of those still in the water will become smaller and smaller and then, when they are the only ones there, will any of us care enough to help.

I hope so.

You see there was recently a push to allow for 100% exemption of homestead and farmstead properties but not for commercial properties.   It’s not the path I want to follow but it may be the path we must take until we can get a bill like 76 passed that completely eliminates the property tax for everyone.

Maybe that’s what it’s going to take to make these people realize how bad this was for the rest of us.

For now, the majority of homeowners are still in the water and the sharks are feeding because that’s what sharks were deigned to do, just like the property tax itself.  We’re in the water and we know the danger we face but those in government seem to not realize how bad it is for us.  Until the order (the law) comes forward from those in place to give that order, everyone is at risk.

Unlike the U.S.S. Indianapolis, they have the chance to come in and save us all at once.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the path enough of them want to take.

In some cases they just want to through us a life-preserver to keep our heads above the water for a little bit longer, that is until the shark comes along to pull another one of us under.  As history has shown, these life preservers they throw at us in the form of relief only keep us afloat until the sharks come and then, life preserver or not, another victim is claimed by the sharks.

As for our movie viewing habits, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s possible to escape the political realm through movies or reading a book for that matter.  Now matter what I see or what I read, it’s there.