|Posted by Jim Rodkey on January 30, 2019 at 4:30 PM|
Note: This is the first part of a series of articles intnended to introduce HB13. We will explore why we feel this new step is important to the process and the advantages of working through this new concept in School Property Tax Elimination.
As we move closer to seeing HB13 move from being proposed legislation to becoming an actual bill, we felt it was time to bring others up to speed on what is happening. Before we do so, we thought it would be beneficial to discuss one particular aspect concerning School Property Tax Elimination.
If any legislation regarding School Property Tax Elimination is to pass, the “Political Will” to do so has to be generated. The fact of the matter is that, while we all know that the school property tax system has problems, the degree of those problems is not generally recognized across the state.
In our opinion, and in our experiences through the countless town halls in which we have participated, the problem is generally recognized among the people but, legislatively, the problem is often diminished or, in the most extreme cases, dismissed. We’ve had more than our share of legislators who tell us it is not a problem in their district and yet, in town hall after town hall, we find the exact opposite to be true when we speak directly with the constituents in that district.
Furthermore, the amendment advanced by the legislative body clearly demonstrates that the problem is recognized by a very large percentage of the people across the state. Overwhelmingly, the state voted to move to some alternative to funding education other than the property tax. While this should have sent a clear message to our legislators, the political system has this awkward habit of spinning everything while looking for political expediency rather than doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. That may not be as much of a political issue as it is a part of human nature. We tend to seek the path of least resistance; to look for the easiest path and, at present, disregarding the long-term impact of School Property Taxation is the easiest path. However, if we continue down this unsustainable path, failing to recognize those long-term effects, we will reach point where something will have to be done and by that time, no matter what is done, the damage created by ignoring those long-term issues, will be very difficult to overcome.
The cold hard fact is that it isn’t going to be enough just to force a vote on any school property tax elimination bill. As it stands right now, any proposed legislation will fail because the political will to do the right thing simply isn’t there. That may frustrate you. It may even make you angry. Frustration and anger, however, is not enough.
Looking for the path of least resistance is not our only problem. We also have to concern ourselves with something identified as the “normalcy bias”. This is the belief that causes people to underestimate both the likelihood of a disaster and its possible effects, because people believe that things will always function the way things normally have functioned. It’s sort of an inherent safety valve that prevents many people from understanding the devasting long-term impact of following an unsustainable course of action.
It is not a problem unique to politicians. It is a problem with the larger society as a whole.
As bad as things are with the property tax at this point in time, the inescapable long-term conclusion, confirmed though the Independent Fiscal Office by studying historical increases in property taxation is that the school property tax burden will double in about 18 years. If wages do not match that increase coupled to keeping the cost of living in alignment to the increased property tax burden, we have a recipe for disaster concerning home-ownership. The historical record demonstrates that wages will not match the increased demand through property taxation and that cost-of-living, as a result of this we will see less money to provide for the revenue demanded through property taxation. In other words, in 18 years, we reach that point of absolute unsustainability. At that point in time, the replacement revenue for school property taxes will have doubled.
Let’s make this clear: if Pennsylvania wants to increase the percentage of out-migrating young working families while generating more government dependency programs, than it should stay on the path it is on. We should all understand the consequences of following that path. Less working age families means less state PIT and SUT income to fund these government programs and that places a higher funding burden on those still living in the Commonwealth.
The third aspect in play is that, while the majority may want to see property taxes eliminated, we cling to this notion that shifting to a different system for replacement revenue should include everybody but our specific group. Many may be perfectly fine with carving out exemptions for specific groups, as we’ve done with Keystone Opportunity Zones (KOZs), Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTAs), Clean and Green and other programs that provide property tax relief by passing that burden on to other working families but, again, we have to consider the long-term implications of doing so. We hear the same narratives when it comes to creating Senior exemptions.
The revenue for education funding has to be generated and every exemption, regardless of how necessary it may seem on the surface, only spreads that revenue demand to fewer people creating greater burdens for that dwindling tax base. This is a band-aid approach to a much larger problem that, rather than solving problems, generally results in creating a whole set of new problems.
When it comes to funding education, the future of our children should be everyone’s responsibility. We may all agree in the importance of a sound education, where we disagree is who should pay for it.
Right now, the lion’s share of that funding comes from our family homes. Since this system is not based on ability to pay, it creates some very serious implications. We also know, regardless of how it is framed, the school property tax system is a system that is rife with inequality issues generating a very regressive education funding system that already dramatically impacts the younger working families in this Commonwealth.
We can continue to ignore that or we can face the harsh reality that property taxation is one of the reasons we see dwindling rates of home-ownership, increases in rent, out-migration of young working families, while contributing to the problems of blight and abandoned properties. Government programs created to “help” in these instances may sound good on the surface, but all government programs require government funding and that increases the tax burden on the very working families that these programs as claimed as help by the government. Those government programs require the establishment of more bureaucracies to maintain them and all of that comes at a cost to the tax payer. In many cases, the long-term cost outweighs any benefits we may see in the short-term.
Over the past year, PAPRA, in working with Frank Ryan, State representative for the 101st district in Pennsylvania, has spent countless hours discussing each of the aspects in attempting to create a strategic narrative in advancing School Property Tax Elimination. We know that, in order to generate the political will to do this, all of these points must become a part of internal narrative within the political body. These points must be driven home to generate the political will to bring about the total elimination of the School Property Tax, paving the way for alternative means for the future complete elimination of all Property Taxation.
At the same time, Frank Ryan has been meeting with other legislators which has opened doors of communication previously unexplored in the property tax debate. These new areas have created more input and discussions that potentially make a very good proposal even better. Having other legislative input is healthy because it brings in unique perspectives that are common in one County or district that is uncommon in other areas. It allows us to address each of these issues and look for the best overall solution for the entire state.
Having other voices in this process has proven to be healthy and a much needed part of generating the political will necessary for School Property Tax Elimination to happen. At the same, these discussion lead to more legislative conversations that all draw attention to the many problems associated with Property Taxation. The more that these problems are openly discussed, the greater the chances we have in drawing attention to the long-term negative impact of staying on the current path.
The goal here is school property tax elimination. To do that we need to generate the replacement revenue and that revenue should be provided in a way that is as equitable as possible while maintaining the Constitution requirements of tax uniformity preventing future substantive court challenges. I believe that we are steadfastly on the path and have created a much stronger support network in the process.
As I stated, the goal here is elimination and, like it or not, to get to that goal we need 102, 26 and 1: the votes necessary from the house, senate and governor for approval. For a proposal making its way to becoming a bill, we’re on a solid path to building a strong legislative coalition and, and least to me, that’s good news.