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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.