Trick. It’s definitely a trick.
There’s a radical shift underway in how Pennsylvania funds schools and it’s kicking into gear this November. Have you heard about it? Probably not, but even if you had you probably wouldn’t have believed it.
Today we’re exposing the veiled intentions of those pushing the amendment to the PA Constitution that will permit the full elimination of homeowner property taxes and pay for it by capping all school spending and shifting the school tax burden to the poorest communities and poorest residents in the state.
It’s a ghastly trick on public schools masquerading as a tax relief treat. Happy Halloween.
The election day ballot will include the following question: “Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to permit the General Assembly to enact legislation authorizing local taxing authorities to exclude from taxation up to 100 percent of the assessed value of each homestead property within a local taxing jurisdiction, rather than limit the exclusion to one-half of the median assessed value of all homestead property, which is the existing law.”
When this measure passes, the legislature can finally reduce your property tax bill to zero.
If the hairs on the back of your neck just stood up, your Bait & Switch detector is working just fine.
Here’s how their plan works: First, they pay for property tax elimination by increasing the sales tax by more than 20% and taxing currently exempt necessities like food and clothing. On top of that assault on the pocketbooks of hard working families, they plan to drive the state’s income tax up by at least 60%. Obviously, if you don’t own a home, this constitutional amendment isn’t for you. But even if you are a homeowner, you are likely to end up paying more in taxes, not less. How could that be? That’s because you are going to have fork over your hard-earned money to cover the massive costs of eliminating property tax for the wealthiest homeowners in the state.
The legislation enabled by this amendment, would work this way. PCCY’s review of statewide tax data found that the average homeowner in Lower Merion pays about $8,000 in property taxes. In Cheltenham, the average property tax bill is closer to $5,400 and in Bristol, its estimated to be $2,800. In Philadelphia, the benefits of property tax elimination would be relatively skimpy in comparison, as the average property taxes are about $1,100. (Philadelphia schools are funded, in large part, by wage and other business taxes not property taxes).
This cold calculus couldn’t be clearer: It will cost much more to eliminate property taxes for residents who live in Lower Merion, one of the state’s wealthiest school districts, than it would to eliminate the property taxes in poorer school districts. To put it simply, residents in wealthy communities are the winners under this plan, and the rest of Pennsylvania are simply payers.
By now you must be wondering why PCCY is weighing in on a ballot measure about local taxes. If our constitution is amended as proposed, the legislation it will unleash will look like SB 76/HB 1776, which is built around the central notion of capping funding for public schools. Even in Lower Merion, where the district offers a quality education with more than $28,000 spent per student, a cap on school spending would have many parents up in arms. But for the 30% of the state’s school district that are scrapping by on half of what Lower Merion’s spending or much less, a cap on district spending is a death knell for the students they educate.
To be sure, there are thousands of Pennsylvanians on limited incomes that cannot afford to stay in their homes because of rising property taxes–they need tax relief. Instead of amending the Constitution to enable a massive transfer of wealth up the ladder, the PA Legislature could right now choose to meet its current constitutional obligation to fund the schools. In doing so, those homeowners would immediately see an end to annual pressure to push up property taxes. In fact, carefully crafted legislation to fund the schools could also significantly lower taxes in the poorest communities and for the most strapped households.
That’s not pie in the sky thinking. It’s exactly what was done in 2004.
Fast forward to 2015, when the lawyers representing the majority party in the House and Senate argued before the PA Supreme Court that the bar for measuring if the legislature is providing sufficient school funding is if the districts can open their doors and turn on the lights.
On November 7th, we urge PCCY supporters to vote “no” on the constitutional amendment. In doing so it will send a clear message to our state lawmakers that its time they shine the spotlight on the real driver of local tax increases (the shortage of state funding for our schools) and finally solve it.