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!