Theft by Taxation

nor shall private property be taken or applied to public use, without authority of law and without just compensation being first made or secured.

Article 1, Section 10 of the PA Constitution

 

The Pennsylvania Constitution is supposed to be the law of the land.  When a law is passed that violates the Constitution, those who passed that law are guilty of violating the Constitution…guilty of violating the law and their oath of office.

Throughout the history of the fight for property tax elimination we have pointed out egregious violations of our rights to property that exist because of the Property tax.  We have pointed out that 10,000 people lose their homes to the property tax each year.  It’s time to consider what happens during this property seizures and eventual sale on the tax auction block

A recent article in the Times Leader (https://www.timesleader.com/news/715302/luzerne-countys-september-back-tax-sale-roster-at-2545-properties) reported on an recent tax auction that took place in Luzerne County on August 8 of this year.  It demonstrates clearly what takes place. It listed seven of 81 properties that were sold on the suction giving some details of the sales.  As you read this please note the actual sale price contrasted to the actual assessed value of the property and remember what Article 1, Section 10 says.

  • Wan C. Ho, of Queens, New York, representing Wilkeshire RE LLC —$20,000 for a 3,000-square-foot, double-block assessed at $80,300 on Hillside Avenue in Edwardsville.
  • Daniel Cruz, of Wilkes-Barre — $22,000 for a 2,300-square-foot house in the 200 block of Academy Street in Wilkes-Barre assessed at $100,900.
  • Michelle Hernandez, of Queens, New York — $26,000 for a 1,350-square-foot house on Spruce Street in Wilkes-Barre assessed at $60,900.
  • Karina Broes, of Randolph, New Jersey — $30,000 for a 1,500-square-foot house assessed at $117,600 on Pond Hill Mountain Road in Conyngham Township.
  • Antonio Mannino, of Hanover Township, representing Puma Motors Inc. — $39,000 each for a vacant 0.23-acre lot assessed at $10,000 on Buck Birch Lane in Buck Township and a 2,170-square-foot house assessed at $174,500 on Foothills Drive in Butler Township.
  • George Karosa, Wyoming — $42,000 for a 1,544-square-foot house in the 100 block of Slocum Street in Forty Fort assessed at $104,000.

Not a single one of these properties reached the actual assessed value of the property.

The article states that the total price generated from the auction of 81 properties came to $642,781.  The total revenue from the seven listed properties comes to $179,000 of the $642,781 leaving $463,781 for the remaining 74 properties.  Simple math tells us that the average revenue generated from the remaining properties comes to less than $6,300 per property.

What happened in Luzerne County is not an exception to the rule.  It is commonplace when homes are seized and sold at public auction for tax delinquency.

The property owners faces the distinct potential of loosing everything.  The only real concern at these tax auctions is to meet the delinquent property taxes due on the property with no regard of just compensation to the actual owner of that property being first made or secured.

The property owner is treated as a criminal simply because the they couldn’t keep up with the tax demands against their property even though those tax increases often exceed inflationary growth of wages.  A serious illness, the death of a spouse, a downturn in the economy that results in a temporary job loss can all lead people to find themselves unable to meet the demands of property taxation.  There are many reasons that people can fall behind on their property taxes because the property tax is not based on ability to pay.  It is based on an arbitrary value placed on a property where the homeowner really has little, if any, say.  While the assessed value is often sold to us being the fair market value of a property, that is simply not the case.  Fair market pricing should be determined on a price agreed upon by a willing seller and a willing buyer.

In the case of a tax auction, the actual property owner has no say.  The property is sold based on a price agreed upon by a buyer and the government, not the homeowner.  Their voice is removed from that process.  There is no consideration of the property owners investment in that property or in the equity acquired in that home.

I said that the home-owner is treated like a criminal but that’s not really true.  In other criminal proceedings, the accused has protected rights not afforded to the property owner. In other criminal proceedings just penalty for a crime is not to be excessive.  The penalty is to be equated to the crime.

That is hardly what happens in the tax seizure and sale of property.  The penalty goes far beyond the crime by taking something completely from the property owner without any real consideration of just compensation.

Adding insult to injury, the property tax impacts everything we do.  That includes the goods we purchase, services we need and even the entertainment we pursue.  Property taxes levied on businesses are passed on to the consumer resulting in higher prices.  As our property tax continues to increase above the rates of inflation, it impacts the prices of everything because all of those businesses are paying the property tax as well.

We often here that eliminating the property tax for business is a huge tax savings for them but we rarely consider how the property tax on those businesses impacts the cost of the things we use.

Looking at a local business in the county where I live that sells something as simple as Ice Cream, I found that their total property tax is $21,624.  Now remember that the average property tax where I live is about $2,400.

A large Ice Cream Cone sells for $2.49.  In order to sell enough large Ice Cream Cones to meet the tax obligation they would have to sell 8,684 cones and that’s not factoring in the cost of materials, employees and other operating expenses.  If $2.00 of that cone covers all other expenses they would have to sell 41,131 ice cream cones to pay the property tax without accumulating a single penny in business profit.  That’s also being generous.  I would assume that it costs more than $2.00 in other operating expenses but I’m just trying to generate an example of how this impacts the cost of the things we use.

Adding insult to injury, if this property was located just 1/2 mile to the east it would be in a different school district where it’s property taxes would be $8,500 more which is roughly about 30% more in taxes.   They would have to sell an additional 3,414 ice cream cones again with not factoring in materials, employees and other operating expenses.  Allowing for the $2.00 in other operating expenses per cone, they would have to sell 61,478 ice cream cones to meet the tax obligation without earning any profit.  The differing property taxes creates an unequal business opportunity which might help to explain why it’s so difficult to attract businesses to the higher taxed school district.

The local Walmart, the business that so many love to hate, pays about $250,000 in property taxes.  If they were just a few blocks away in a different school district, those property taxes would total $353,919, an increase of more than $100,000.

To refuse to accept the notion that property taxes make everything we do cost more is simply ridiculous.

So, while the property tax makes everything more expensive, our property tax continue to increase continues to exceed above the rate of inflation making it harder for people support local business because they have less revenue to spend and the things they purchase will cost more because of the property tax.

You see, when people make the claim that business can afford to pay more, they are foolish enough not to understand that they really don’t pay more because that cost will be passed on to us and therefore, we pay more, not just more in property taxes but more for everything.

The clothing you wear, the food you eat, the medications you need, the legal services you seek, and yes, even that ice cream cone with which you treat yourself…it all costs more because of the property tax.

Then, if you find yourself in a position where you can no longer afford the property tax, they’ll take your home away from you and sell it in an auction where you will most likely lose your investment in that home all the while with supporter of property tax applauding the stability of the income tax as a revenue source for government.  That government tax collection stability is always predicated on the instability it causes for people who have to pay it.

It stifles job creation and job growth because it stifles business relocation to the state and because the property tax varies so much from school district to school district we find that establishing business in higher taxed but lower economic third class cities are actually driving business to locate out of those districts making them more reliant on homes rather than business to meet the tax wants.

In the latest report from the Independent Fiscal Office on Property taxation we find that $7.048 billion of the property tax comes from owner occupied homes.  More than 40% of that, or $3.087 billion, comes from seniors over the age of 60 even though seniors over the age of 60 make up only 20% of the total state population.

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For the seniors living on fixed income with limited resources, the increase in property taxation can be overwhelming.  While watching the cost of everything continue to go up, including essential medical costs.

These seniors are more apt to have actually paid off their homes and then to face losing that home that is paid for in full, having it seized and sold for pennies on the dollar all in the name of tax fairness and tax stability should be reprehensible to all of us.

We started this by looking at a news article from Luzerne County.  I quoted the price of homes sold in auction in August.  The article also states that just one month later a new property tax auction is set to go forward in September that could involve a potential 2,545 properties.  It is unlikely that any of these properties sold on auction will reach the assessed worth of their homes values.

In a series of related article on property taxation, they looked at property tax increases in just 4 counties in Pennsylvania.  The article cited that property owners saw a 28% average increase in their property taxes over a time span of just 10 years.  Then as you look into this deeper you find that some district saw only a 15% increase while other districts went up by more than 50%  (http://www.philly.com/philly/news/pennsylvania/pennsylvania-property-tax-increases-bucks-chester-montgomery-delaware-county-20180227.html)

That article covered Bucks, Chester, Montgomery and Delaware county.  In an earlier article the same research efforts discovered that more than 200,000 properties in the same counties were over-assessed which means they are paying property taxes on property they don’t really own because the assessment is higher than their home can be sold on the open market.  That’s just four counties in the state but the story hold true no matter where you live in the state.  There is simply nothing arbitrarily fair about property taxation.  (http://www.philly.com/philly/news/pennsylvania/pennsylvania-property-taxes-assessment-20171214.html)

We not only have a system of taxation that robs us of our homes without just compensation to the property owner, we have a system of taxation that, because of faulty assessments, large numbers of properties are over-assessed paying more in taxes than their home is actually worth.  It may be a stable source of revenue.

The most recent chart from the Independent Fiscal office shows the cumulative growth in revenue from the property tax, PIT and SUT.

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What this chart doesn’t tell us is that the growth in revenue in the SUT and PIT taxes occurred without the need for tax increases in the generation of that revenue.   On the other hand, the property tax required, literally, thousands of tax increases by the various school districts, municipalities and county government to generate that revenue with the largest contributing factor being increases by school districts.

For the half of the population in this state that lives below the median household income level, how do they prepare for such an assault in their burden of taxation?

Is it any wonder why the poverty rate is as high as it is in Pennsylvania considering how the property tax impacts to cost of everything in this Commonwealth.

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These statistics come from the U.S. Census Bureau.  The property tax plays a role in this and we shouldn’t ignore that.  As the cost of everything increases while wages stagnate for those in the lower median household income bracket or with seniors on fixed income, poverty rates must increase. When those increases result in the tax seizure of a home and then that home is sold for a fraction of its worth on auctions with no consideration of the tax-payer we have despotism, not fairness in taxation.

It also plays a role in the increases in the cost of rent.

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How do we continue to look at these charts and continue to talk about the stability of the property tax in relation to the people who are hit with the burden of providing for the tax?

The property tax steals from us in so many ways.  It lowers the value of our homes denying us the equity we should have earned in that home.  It makes us pay more for the goods and services we use.  It robs the state of business growth opportunities and job creation. And then, eventually it can lead to the governmental theft of a home that allows them to sell that home on an auction without any consideration of the person who is actually supposed to own that home.

It is, in short and simple terminology, Theft by Taxation!  It is precisely what Article 1, Sections 1, 8 and 10 of our Constitution is supposed to protect us from!  It’s long past time that our legislators fix this egregious violation of our protected rights, eliminate the property tax and replace that revenue with a system that is fair and based on ability to pay.  It’s time to stop talking about stability for the tax collector to look at the instability it is causing for the working families of this Commonwealth.  It’s time to start creating tax policy that creates stability for the people who must pay the tax.

Yes, authority of law as it now stands allows for the seizing of property but that authority must include just compensation to the property owner according to article 1, Section 10.  Since the current law does not accomplish that than the authority of such a law needs to be questioned because such a law operates outside the realm of the authority granted to it by our Constitution.  That should make such a law void.

 

 

 

To reach real solutions we have to honestly understand cause and effect.

In a 2017 article in the Morning Call, the issue of outmigration was explored (http://www.mcall.com/news/local/data/mc-map-pennsylvania-migration-census-20170322-htmlstory.html_.  The article states “Pennsylvania is once again a place that people love to leave. Although the state’s births outnumbered deaths, more people left the state last year than moved in, resulting in a population loss of almost 7,700 people.”

While the article talks about some positive population growth in specific areas of the state, the article does not discuss the details in the statistics of the in-migration that contributed to the growth in these areas.  Those statistics are important especially if the in-migration is largely people moving to locations because of the ease of obtaining entitlement benefits which adds a greater strain on the economy of the county and state.  In-migration in an of itself it not necessarily a good thing, it the factors that make up the in-migration that determines whether or not this is good.  An in-migration of working families who are going to hold down jobs and contribute to the tax base is a good thing.  An overwhelming in-migration of people who are not isn’t.  Likewise, if the out-migration is largely made up of people who aren’t contributing to the economy of the state isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.  However, if the out-migration is working families moving to other states where those incomes are lost to this state and are now going to another state is a very bad thing.  We need more a more detailed breakdown and much deeper analytics of these statistics before we can honestly assess what is taking place.

I’ve read several articles on the problems of out-migration from Pennsylvania.  Those articles were in both state and Federal publications.  I have yet to read one article that discusses the economic station of those leaving the state.  Are these working families or individuals who flee the state because of the tax burden and greater economic prospects in other states?  That’s a very important part of this equation because we can’t find workable solutions until we understand the depth of problem.  I believe we need to know that number because it is important in understanding the depth of this problem.

I also find the comparison of statistics interesting.  While it’s been documented by independent researchers that 10,000 people lose their homes each year because of Pennsylvania’s broken system of property taxation we don’t see the number of articles reporting that statistic, certainly not at the national level.  Yet 7,700 people leaving the state because national headlines.

The fact of the matter is that we don’t keep statistics concerning how many people lose their homes to property taxation.  You won’t find this statistic anywhere in any government site.  Nor will you find a statistic that breakdowns the number of foreclosure and bankruptcy that happens as a result of property taxation.  Maybe many just don’t want to know.  It took the hard work of private citizens to do that research on a county by county basis.

Without understanding the driving factors behind statistics, we can’t possibly have honest and accountable debates on solutions.  Because we often ignore these driving factors to focus only on the end statistics is, in my opinion, exactly why Pennsylvania continues to fall into the 5 and 10% number of the negatives for economic growth and development in our state, sometimes actually taking the number one position.

A recent study demonstrated one of those instances of a number one negative statistic.  Pennsylvania leads the country in student debt, accord to the following article (https://triblive.com/state/pennsylvania/13969077-74/pennsylvania-2017-college-grads-lead-the-nation-in-student-debt)

Once again we find a lengthy report of an actual statistic that fails to make the connect between student debt and the out-migration problem.  Are these graduated students with large college debt a large part of the out-migration statistics?  It would seem reasonable to assume this would be the case.

Graduating from college with a debt that’s the equivalent of the purchase of a new car or even to the point of the equivalence of a mortgage on home is going to drive people to look for employment opportunities in more tax friendly states.  A lower tax burden doesn’t lower their college debt but it does become a motivator to live somewhere where paying back that debt is less burdensome.  There is no correlation, in the article to declining enrollments in State run colleges in  Pennsylvania.  While nationwide college enrollment declined by 1%, Pennsylvania’s state-run colleges double that percentage with a 2% decline (https://triblive.com/news/education/career/13097071-74/college-enrollment-down-in-pennsylvania-and-across-the-nation).  The Trib article states that “Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education recorded their seventh annual decline in enrollment this fall. They registered 102,300 students, or a loss of 17,213 students since peaking at 119,513 students in 2010.”’

Once again, though, we get statistics without any analysis of why this problem exists.  The correlation between cost of an education in Pennsylvania which yields greater student debt and dwindling enrollments simply isn’t a part of the story.  As a result, we yield excuses and not solutions and Pennsylvania remains on its path of economic frivolity.

The State education system asked for an increase in the state budget of $73.1 million dollars (https://www.pennlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/10/state_universities_enrollment.html) citing declining enrollment and increased education costs as the excuse.  Certainly, that needs to be considered but we should also be looking at the reasons for the increases in education costs.  Throwing more money at bad policy is a logic that keeps us on the path of unsustainability.  That money has to come from somewhere and when the State educational system is asking the state for more money, they are actually asking that money for us, the tax-payers because the only money the state has is money it takes from us.  That request, in the mind of legislators and our governors, has continually been to consider one of three means, taking that funding from other services in the state, finding new things to tax or increasing the tax burden on the rest of us.

What we should be doing is analyzing the cost drivers to find ways to meet revenue needs that are both thorough and efficient.  I see nothing in the constitution that includes the word, taxation that is most convenient, in Article 3, Section 14 of our state constitution.  Maybe I missed it, so I’ll include here for your convenience.

The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.

If you find the word convenient in regards to legislative responsibilities in taxation for education, please let me know.

Property taxation defenders often use the termination of stability of taxation of the property tax.  By that they really mean the ease of convenience of collecting and raising the tax because of the importance so many people place on home-ownership, i.e. the right to property.  It may be thorough for the tax collector but that is not the intent.  The intent is that the system of education public education that is thorough and efficient, not a system of taxation.  To even the most naïve observer, the system of property taxation in the funding of education is neither.

Because we embrace as bad policy of taxation, it creates other problems that negatively impacts the economic condition of the state.  We all know that blight is problem.  Where are the articles that explain how the rising burden of the property tax is a contributing factor in the inability of many families to do the proper upkeep and maintenance of their homes?  I ask this question seriously because I think it’s important.  Can anyone steer me to an actual article from a newspaper written by journalist, not a civilian op-ed piece, where this factor is even considered?  If you find one, send it to me and I’ll sing its praises.

I do believe that we are smart enough, in Pennsylvania, to come up with workable solutions to the many problems we face.  I also believe that to come to these solutions we need open and honest debate coupled to the political and journalistic will to start analyzing the drive factors related to these problems and stop simply spewing statistics.  Everything has a cause and effect and to solve the problems we have to be able to honestly debate the cause.

Ask yourself this simple question:  Is it reasonable to consider that outmigration, higher unemployment than the national average, debt, foreclosure, bankruptcy, blight, transient populations, Pennsylvania’s lack of ability to attract new business without property tax incentives and other issues have any correlation to the high burden of property taxation in the state?

If you answer that question with a yes, then ask yourself why you don’t read about these connections in articles that discuss these issues. Why is this factor always ignored?

Then look deeper.  Why does Pennsylvania have so many property tax related exclusions?  Why do we have homestead exemptions, KOZs and LERTAs, Clean and Green, rent and housing subsidies if the real problems isn’t property taxation?  It should be obvious to all of us that the reason these things exist is because we have a property tax to begin with.  Without the property tax, the other things would not be necessary.

While we often read defenses of these programs, especially with KOZs and LERTAs, where we hear about how much money these programs have generated, those finding are never coupled to how much these programs actually cost because, once again, this isn’t a statistic that we make available to the public.  We can talk about the benefits of a program only when we weigh that to the cost of the implementation of that programs and how that cost is met.  Once we understand that we begin to see that these programs, regardless of the arguments for their necessity, exist only because we have a property tax.

Likewise, if property tax is so fair, as proponents claim, why do we need regular county-wide assessments that are expensive and add to our property tax burden?  Isn’t the fact that we need these assessments proof enough that the property tax is not fair.

Taking the re-assessments further, the evidence that assessments like this don’t actually work is evidence by the number of successful appeals that follow every reassessment.  Those appeals demonstrate a clear failing on the part of assessment companies to do what they were designed to do.

I’ve spent the greater part of the last 10 years digging into the problem of property taxation in this state.  The fact is that the more I have dug into this issue, the more egregious the property tax becomes to me.  I guess about every excuse that can be heard in defense of property taxation and what I have found is that those excuses are exactly that, excises.  They are not substantive reasons because the excuse is riddled with easily exposed holes if you actually have taken the time to understand the cause and effect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Case for Property Tax Elimination from 1795

The Pennsylvania legislature, in an attempt to settle a land dispute between state residents and out-of-state purchasers from Connecticut, passed a law vesting title to the disputed property in the out-of-state purchasers. State residents with bona fide claims were compensated with an equivalent tract. Several Pennsylvania residents sued, claiming that the legislative resolution of the land dispute deprived them of their vested rights and right to a jury trial.

Justice William Patterson, serving on the Circuit Court of the United States for the Pennsylvania district, supported the Pennsylvania claimants. His charge to the jury defended the judicial power to declare laws unconstitutional. Patterson then concluded that the Pennsylvania “quieting and confirming act” violated the
constitution of Pennsylvania and the Constitution of the United States. Vanhorne’s Lessee may be the first instance in which a federal court held state legislation unconstitutional.

There is even a greater importance to this case because Justice William Patterson mad a case for property rights that, I believe, can and should be used against continuing to allow our homes to be held hostage to this ominous tax.

Let’s start with a little background.  Pennsylvania’s first constitution came just a few months after the passing of the Declaration of Independence.  In September of 1776, this became the rule of law in Pennsylvania.  In 1790, a constitutional convention was held in Pennsylvania to amend the constitution bringing it more inline with the support of the Federal Constitution.  Just as it does today, both the 1776 and the 1790 Constitution included a section specifically titled “Declaration of Rights” where the individual rights of all Pennsylvanians were included as part of the governments responsibility to protect.

After hearing the case, Justice Patterson gave a recommendation to the jury as to how this case should be weighed and that included an in-depth analysis of the importance of the rule of law in the Constitution.  Any law, he warned, outside of the Constitutional rule of law should be deemed void.

As part of admonition to the jurors Justice Patterson said:

What is a constitution? It is the form of government, delineated by the mighty hand of the people, in which certain first principles of fundamental laws are established. The constitution is certain and fixed; it contains the permanent will of the people, and is the supreme law of the land; it is paramount to the power of the legislature, and can be revoked or altered only by the authority that made it. The life-giving principle and the death-doing stroke must proceed from the same hand. What are legislatures? Creatures of the constitution; they owe their existence to the  constitution: they derive their powers from the constitution: It is their commission; and, therefore, all their acts must be conformable to it, or else they will be void. The constitution is the work or will of the people themselves, in their original, sovereign, and unlimited capacity. Law is the work or will of the legislature in their derivative and subordinate capacity. The one is the work of the creator, and the other of the creature. The constitution fixes limits to the exercise of legislative authority, and prescribes the orbit within which it must move. In short, gentlemen, the constitution is the sun of the political system, around which all legislative, executive and judicial bodies must revolve. Whatever may be the case in other countries, yet in this there can be no doubt, that every act of the legislature, repugnant to the constitution, is absolutely void.

Justice Patterson then defined the Constitutional limitations of the legislature in the creation of any act that would violate the protects guaranteed in our Constitution.  He explained to the jury the issue at hand with regards to the case.  As I read this I was struck with the harmonious indictment of the law and with the property tax as it stands today, especially with regards to the school property tax.  Justice Patterson said:

The proprietor stands afar off, a solitary and unprotected member of the community, and is stripped of his property, without his consent, without a hearing, without notice, the value of that property judged upon without his participation, or the intervention of a jury, and the equivalent therefor in lands ascertained in the same way. If this be the legislation of a republican government, in which the preservation of property is made sacred by the constitution, I ask, wherein it differs from the mandate of an Asiatic prince? Omnipotence in legislation is despotism. According to this doctrine, we have nothing that we can call our own, or are sure of for a moment; we are all tenants at will, and hold our landed property at the mere pleasure of the legislature. Wretched situation, precarious tenure! And yet we boast of property and its security, of laws, of courts, of constitutions, and call ourselves free! In short, gentlemen, the confirming act is void; it never had constitutional existence; it is a dead letter, and of no more virtue or avail, than if it never had been made.

This case, which took place 223 years ago, includes a description of the way the property tax now functions.  While it deals with an exchange between Connecticut and Pennsylvania, the same principle apply when it comes to the individual rights of property ownership.

The Constitution, which created the General Assembly, which in turn created and gave certain authority to our school districts where the proprietor (property owner) has little say in the burden of taxation being placed upon them.  They are outside of school district contract negotiations and play no role in the consent of the assessed values attached to their properties as these come through appointed agents of government, not elected by the people so that the value of their property is judged by an appointed force without the participation of the property owner or the intervention of a jury.   As a result we find home-owners stripped of their property, without their consent and without a hearing.  Justice Patterson declared that such omnipotent powers over our right to property is not Justice, it is Despotism.

When the opinion for the case was written, The Judge read from the 1st. 8th. and 11th articles of the Declaration of Rights in the Pennsylvania Constitution.  The 1790 Constitution read as follows:

Declaration of Rights: Section 1: 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.

Declaration of Rights: Section 8: That the people shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers and possessions, from unreasonable searches and seizures: And that no warrant to search any place, or to seize any person or things, shall issue, without describing them as nearly as may be, nor without probable cause supported by oath or affirmation.

Declaration of Rights: Section 11: That all courts shall be open, and every man, for an injury done him in his lands, goods, person or reputation, shall have remedy by the due course of law, and right and justice administered, without sale, denial or delay. Suits may be brought against the commonwealth in such manner, in such courts, and in such cases, as the legislature may by law direct.

It is important to note that each of these protections of our rights to property are still a part of our Constitution after all these years.  Today they are found in Article 1, Section 1, 8 and 11, the same sections as the 1790 Constitution.  I would add to this argument Section 9 which reads:

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 be confronted with the witnesses against him, 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.

Keep in mind that when the law of land violates other aspects of the Constitution, Justice Patterson declared that such laws were void.

After citing the Constitutional reason that the law passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature was unconstitutional he wrote the following:

From these passages it is evident; that the right of acquiring…property, and having it protected, is one of the natural, inherent, and unalienable rights of man. Men have a sense of property: Property is necessary to their subsistence, and correspondent to their natural wants and desires; its security was one of the objects, that induced them to unite in society. No man would become a member of a community, in which he could not enjoy the fruits of his honest labor and industry. The preservation of property then is a primary object of the social compact, and, by the late constitution of Pennsylvania, was made a fundamental law.

Let that sink in.  The preservation of property is a primary object of the social compact (the reason for the Constitution and the government created to support it) and since these rights are still affirmed in our Constitution that it is still the legislators RESPONSIBILITY to uphold these principles of the sacred and inherent right of property which is routinely ignored and violated under the current abuses of the property tax, especially with regards to the current state of the property tax.

It should be added here that the school district boards are not governing bodies.  While they have certain authority to govern their schools, they have no real governing authority outside that limited realm.  The school board has no authority over our homes in any other realm except for the purposes of taxation and even that power should be questioned.

The school board is a created body within government which should, like all other created bodies within government, be devoid of any authority to independently tax of have any control over our property whatsoever.  This then calls into question the General Assembly’s action of granting such authority to the school district from the outset.

In my opinion, the school districts should require the consent of the governed, either through referendum or through granted authority from actual elected governing bodies at either the Local, County or State level before that can increase any tax burden on the residents.

I have cited this case in this blog to explain that the right of property was once highly esteemed in this country as was an important part of the founding principles in this nation.  The growing abuses of these rights stand in direct opposition to our founders in their intent and purpose.

That some may look at the above and attempt to refute what is written here demonstrates how far we have gone from the intent of our founders when it comes to property rights of the individual and the governments responsibility to protect those rights.

IN the debate to eliminate the school property tax, we often hear that property taxes have been around as long as their has been civilization and there is some truth to that.  However, the school property tax has not.  We cannot compare our obligations and the property taxes from the elected county and local municipal taxes, where such constitutional powers have been granted to the school districts.  They are different types of bodies, one is an elected governing body and the other, although elected, has now powers of governing in our community outside their limited functions as a school district.  They are no different from other created bodies within government who have no such taxing authority over us.

I’ll close with these words from Justice Patterson regarding this case:

But admitting, that the Legislature can take the real estate of A. and give it to B. on making compensation, the principle and reasoning upon it go no further than to shew, that the Legislature are the sole and exclusive judges of the necessity of the case, in which this despotic power should be called into action. It cannot, on, the principles of the social alliance, or of the Constitution, be extended beyond the point of judging upon every existing case of necessity. The Legislature declare and enact, that such are the public exigencies, or necessities of the State, as to authorise them to take the land of A. and give it to B.; the dictates of reason and the eternal principles of justice, as well as the sacred principles of the social contract, and the Constitution, direct, and they accordingly declare and ordain, that A. shall receive compensation for the land. But here the Legislature must stop; they have run the full length of their authority, and can go no further: they cannot constitutionally determine upon the amount of the compensation, or value of the land. Public exigencies do not require, necessity does not demand, that the Legislature should, of themselves, without the participation of the proprietor, or intervention of a jury, assess the value of the thing, or ascertain the amount of the compensation to be paid for it.

 

 

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results!

It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.

 

It has been my honor and blessed privilege to chair a local grassroots organization known as the Lebanon 9-12 Project.  This organization was formed in the early days of tea party movement with an emphasis on remembering the events that followed September 11, 2001; not to simply remember the horrific event itself but to hold fast to the spirit in America that followed where we came together as a nation and, for a moment, set aside party and other divisions to work together as a people united in purpose.  While established during the rising “tea party” movement, it was also something different, where policy was more important than personalities or party.

At the center of the Lebanon 9-12 Project, is the subject of Liberty…personal Liberty… and this differs from simple freedom.  Freedom can become absolute anarchy because the absolute freedom to do as we wish can include the violation of the liberties of others and this becomes a threat to the exercise of both Freedom and Liberty.  Liberty, true Liberty, contains within it, the restraining principle that I am free to exercise my rights so long as I do no harm to others.

To engage in the principle of liberty is to embrace foundational truths on our natural and inherent rights.  It embraces the sacred principles of the inherent and protected personal expressions of the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the freedom of religion, the freedom of association.  There is not a single issue in our Declaration of Independence, our Bill of rights or Pennsylvania’s Constitution in Article One that is not, somehow, directly connected to the right of property.

These sacred and inherent rights have one singular limitation that, in the expression of these rights, we seek to do no harm to others.  It is a foundational truth established long before the land we now call America became a nation.  It is found in teachings of Jesus Christ. He expressed it like this “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12).  We believe those words can equally be applied as a summary of the Law as established through a just government.

It is found in the writings of Aristotle, Cicero, Thomas Aquinas, Algernon Sydney, John Locke and Montesquieu…all of who preceded our founders and the birth of this Nation as a free an independent Union of States under the guidance of the rule of law as established in our Constitutions making us a nation that was best described as a Constitutional Republic..

As Thomas Jefferson declared in his rough draft of the Declaration of Independence “to secure these ends, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government shall become destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying it’s foundation on such principles & organizing it’s powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety & happiness.”

Those words were so profound that it’s one of the few segments of the rough draft of the Declaration that made it through without being altered.

If we accept that there is just government we must also accept that there is also unjust government; that sometimes laws established in even the most just of governments become corrupted and that those laws become unjust in their forceful execution.  Those unjust laws then become instruments that no longer protect the natural and inherent rights of the  people but, instead, become instruments of harm to both individuals and society as a whole.

Through the organization of the Lebanon 9-12 Project we have set as one of our highest priorities, the reestablishment of the inherent rights of property to the people in the protection of those sacred, natural and inherent rights.  Our guidance in this matter has been framed around a moral principle laid out for us at the founding of this nation and in the founding of Pennsylvania as a Commonwealth.

Before I go any further, I need it to be clearly understood that, by property, we mean all property; not just the property of our real estate.  As James Madison said “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own.” (James Madison, Essay on Property, 1792)

In the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States we find a list of the six ends to which the Constitution is addressed: union, justice, domestic tranquility, defense, general welfare, and liberty. The matter of liberty described most fully in these words, “to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

In 1679 William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, wrote “Three Rights are so peculiar and inherent to us, that if we will not throw them away for Fear or Favor, for Meat and Drink, or those other little present Profits, that Ill Men offer to tempt us with, they cannot be altered or abrogated….The First of these Three Fundamentals is Property, that is, Right and Title to your own Lives, Liberties and Estates: In this, every Man is a Sort of Little Sovereign to himself: No Man has Power over his Person, to Imprison or hurt it, or over his Estate to Invade or Usurp it”

Now I’m saying all of this to lay a framework for an argument.  That which follows is in the context of that which preceded.

I fully understand the economic peril that the school property tax has become since it’s abuses began in the late 1960’s.  I accept the truth that people are losing their homes because they can’t keep up with the weight and burden of this tax.  While I accept the economic wrong of the abuse of this method of funding education, I firmly believe that the economic impact is a symptom of the acceptance of a moral wrong in the invasion of our supposedly protected rights to be secure in our homes and possessions.  It is the violation of the principle of liberty that creates the economic condition.  It does so because it is an unjust Law.

Those who are comfortable with property taxation accept it without looking at the consequences of the school property tax in inflating the costs of all the goods and services we not only use, but also need for survival.   Food and clothing cost more because there is a property tax.  Our homes cost to us personally more because their a property tax.  Even those who rent will pay higher rental prices because there is a property tax.

The principle of Liberty is violated because it is a law that, although some are comfortable with it, it requires doing harm to others.  In 2015 Governor Wolf acknowledged that simple fact when he said “There is a need to understand the investment that is education.  There is a choice of supporting education, but it comes with the cost of taxes and the possibility of losing a home for some” (The Pocono Record, Mat 27, 2015)

Governor Wolf’s words are a kinder and gentler way of expressing the sentiment expressed during a hearing on Property Tax Elimination by Michael Wood of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center when he said that 10,000 people losing their homes each year is not a significant enough number to do something about it.  To demonstrate that the Governor must apparently agree with the sentiment of Michael Wood, understand this: In 2015, under Governor Wolf, he became Executive Budget Manager of the Pennsylvania Office of the Budget (June 2015 – July 2018) and then in July of this year Michael Wood became the Policy Director of the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue.

Michael Wood and his ideological positioning to accept a corrupted system of taxation, a system supported by Governor Wolf’s statement is one way that we can understand how the deep state works.  Once appointed after spearheading an organization that works against the best interest of the citizenry of this Commonwealth, these people can advance their agendas.  Adding insult to injury, by appointing them to critical positions within this deep state shadow government, they can operate behind the scenes, hidden through a general lack of transparency when it comes to the actions of this myriad of Departments, Agencies and Commissions where they will further influence policy and impose regulations that further perpetuate the violations of our homes and possessions.

Recently we saw another appointment of an individual as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.  That person was Jerry Oleksiak who was lauded as being a teacher upon the announcement of his nomination.  Oleksiak was, actually, a ghost teacher, where instead of teaching in the classroom, he was paid to do the work of the PSEA, Pennsylvania’s largest public sector unions representing teachers.  While a ghost teacher, Oleksiak advanced through the ranks to become the President of the PSEA.  Prior to being elected PSEA President, Oleksiak served as PSEA Vice President, PSEA Treasurer, a member of the PSEA Board of Directors, and President of Mideastern Region of PSEA, which includes Bucks and Montgomery Counties. He also served as Chair of the Coordinated Bargaining Committee.

As head of the Department of Labor and Industry he will now oversee the Collective Bargaining aspects related to the PSEA.

As James Madison wrote in Federalist Papers, No. 10, November 23, 1787: “The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling which they overburden the inferior number is a shilling saved to their own pockets.”

In this same document Madison explained that no man should allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity. Through the deep state, however, this is exactly what we see happening.  Individuals with personal self-serving interests are setting policy and controlling regulatory authority allowing them to be the judge in their own cause.

To accept the taxation of property to fund education is to accept the institutions established that are working behind the scenes to perpetuate this violation of our rights to property where doing harm to others is entirely acceptable behavior so long as a few benefit greatly by its implementation or, as Senator Folmer explained, “Sacrificing principle on the altar of self-interest.”

The goal of the Lebanon 9-12 Project is the complete elimination of all property taxes, starting with the egregious school property tax.  We must move away from bad taxation principles that violate our personal liberties.  Those bad policies begin by first ignoring our sacred and inherent rights to property and the government’s responsibility, if they wish to remain a just government, of protecting that sacred and inherent right.   To be clear, taxation as a means to fund the necessary functions of government is a shared responsibility.  That responsibility, however, should never primarily be limited to one class in society, especially where, within that class, exemptions are continually carved out that passed that burden on to fewer people with in that class.  That responsibility MUST be based on taxation established through the principle of ability to pay.

The property tax is not based on ability to pay.  It assumes a wealth based on property ownership and imposes a special penalty on us.  That assumed wealth will never generate the income necessary to pay for the property tax.  By shifting to an income related tax or to a sales and use tax, we better reflect ability to pay and con do so in a way that is for more equitable and will not require the constant tax increases that are necessary because we rely on property tax to fund education and our government.

The goal is, elimination and how we get there is very important.  We accept our mutual responsibility in the funding of something so important as education.  In this fact, we agree with our opposition that education funding is important, where we disagree is in how we fund that system of education.

Our opponents accept the immorality of the unjust system of taxation that is not based on ability to pay that has the power to deny some the liberty in their sacred and inherent rights to pursue their own happiness through the purchase and complete ownership of their home.  We understand that either we have a right to our own property or we become the property of others.  Through the property tax, we become the subservient player where the protected privilege of denying liberty to some, thus actually denying it to all whether directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly, and giving agencies of government an authority over our homes in ways that were never intended by our founding or through the foundational doctrines of our Commonwealth and Country…for certainly the abuse of property taxation has become a perversion of the intent of those who were tasked with creating those profound documents.

The continual efforts of fixing this issue through relief schemes or through carving out more exemptions has continually demonstrated that these tactics aren’t working.  They not only aren’t working, they are making the situation more intolerable for more people.  And yet, we continually hear about their temporary fixes where they plot and conspire to do the same things in the name of property tax relief all while promising different results this time.  That’s insanity.

When the same tactics continue to prove themselves to be unworkable, you have to be willing to go in a different direction.  You must look for alternative solutions to this unreasonable tax burden that plagues, not only individuals, but the entire Commonwealth making us a less attractive place to establish roots, attract new business to the Commonwealth or to allow for existing business to expand.

To my way of thinking, any one defending the status quo of property taxation is also preserving the potential of pushing Pennsylvania further into that downward spiral that continues to hurt our economy.  It does so because of the immoral principles that supports the property tax itself.  Once you correct the injustice of the property tax, you set us on a course of better being able to fix those other issues as well.