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13 February 2009
A letter from the Speaker
In January we reported about a recent commentary in the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader where Luzerne County Representative Todd Eachus, the new majority leader, said: “The state House of Representatives is under new management and has new priorities, and the people of Pennsylvania will determine those priorities.”
But, alas, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
In the last update we suggested that you write to Representative Eachus and Representative Keith McCall, the new House Speaker, to request that they support school property tax elimination. Many of you did this and a few of you sent Speaker McCall’s form letter reply to me. Copied below is his letter, followed by my comments.
From: "Wegert, Debbie"
Date: Wed, 4 Feb 2009
Subject: property tax
Rep. McCall asked that I forward the following response to your inquiry.
Thank you for your e-mail about the need for property tax relief.
I am very aware of how property taxes have impacted homeowners across
Last session, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives took preliminary, yet solid, steps toward property tax reform. Of particular note, the House passed House Bill 1947 of the 2007-08 Legislative Session, which was a constitutional amendment that would allow for the elimination of school property taxes on primary homes and farms. This type of legislation is considered a key procedural effort to constitutionally allow Pennsylvania to fund a 100 percent exemption rather than what the constitution currently provides – fifty percent of the median assessed value, which ranges from a ten to twenty five percent reduction. Without this enabling language, all other efforts to fully relieve Pennsylvanians of school property taxes would be futile. This legislation will be reintroduced in the very near future.
The House also debated proposals that provided for the complete elimination of property taxes. Complete elimination is the ultimate goal; however, the Commonwealth needs to fill a potential $15 billion dollar hole when those taxes are abolished. There is no secret formula to fill the funding gap to pay for schools without implementing a tax shift or new taxes. We must work together to fill this funding gap.
As the General Assembly begins the 2009-10 Legislative Session, my colleagues and I will be tasked with addressing a myriad of issues such as education, health care, alternative energy and property tax reform all while tackling a growing state budget deficit. I do not expect the sluggish economy to change overnight; however, I do remain optimistic for our future. In regards to property tax reform, in such difficult economic times, the legislature needs to consider what the average taxpayer can afford to pay in order to fill such a possible funding gap with the elimination of property taxes.
The issue of trying to provide tax relief during a recession is certainly complex in nature and the legislature is giving its due diligence. The legislature is preparing to begin a dialogue on property tax reform and the constitutional amendment will probably be the first order of business. Your comments will be kept in mind as the discussion unfolds.
Please rest assured that I am cognizant of how rising property taxes, a national mortgage crisis, and a weak national economy coupled with a growing state deficit and rising prices are hitting hard-working families where it hurts. Please know that I strive to lessen the burden on Pennsylvania taxpayers, including providing property tax relief, and will continue my efforts on behalf of all Pennsylvanians.
Again, thank you for writing. I truly appreciate your feedback on this important issue.
KEITH R. McCALL
122nd Legislative District
Apparently Speaker McCall thinks we’re all pretty stupid and that we’re going to simply accept his letter as gospel. Here are the facts:
His first statement sets the tone for the rest of the letter: “the Pennsylvania House of Representatives took preliminary, yet solid, steps toward property tax reform.” Sure they did. The full House worked a total of TWO days on property tax issues during the entire two years of the 2007-2008 legislative session. When HB 1600, the worthless “relief” bill championed by Speaker McCall’s caucus leadership, went down in flames, his leaders panicked and immediately sent all pending property tax bills to the Finance Committee where they remained until they died at the end of the session in November. Solid steps, indeed!
Next, he boasts about House Bill 1947, legislation that died in the Senate. This bill was sponsored by Representative David Levdansky, one of the most vocal opponents of school property tax elimination. This immediately makes the bill's intent suspect.
HB 1947 was an amendment to change the uniformity clause of the PA Constitution, which states that taxes cannot be levied unequally on entities within the same taxing body. The bill's purpose was to allow different tax rates for homesteads and businesses. But the devil is in the details.
HB 1947 would ALLOW a 100% homestead exemption from property taxes but in itself would not mandate or guarantee total elimination; the reduction allowed could be any amount up to 100%. Further, HB 1947 by itself did NOTHING - it would require further enabling legislation in the future to have any effect whatsoever. There was no assurance that this would ever happen.
In short, HB 1947 was simply more political deception to try to make taxpayers believe that the legislature was actually doing something about property taxes.
Now Speaker McCall wants to reintroduce the bill this session. Because a Constitutional amendment requires passage by two succeeding sessions of the General Assembly, a difficult task by itself, plus a voter referendum, the absolute earliest that the bill could become law is 2011, although this could occur much later. Only then would enabling legislation be considered. This is a great way to delay property tax elimination indefinitely.
Despite Speaker McCall's statement that without this legislation “all other efforts… would be futile”, the School Property Tax Elimination Act is written in such a manner that it can become effective IMMEDIATELY upon passage WITHOUT the need to first pass an amendment like HB 1947. This statement from Speaker McCall is totally disingenuous.
In the next paragraph, Speaker McCall states that $15 billion is required to fill the gap left from elimination. This is completely false unless he is talking about ALL property taxes, including county and municipal, but this has not been the immediate goal of our efforts and he knows this.
The total of homestead/farmstead SCHOOL property taxes to be eliminated by the School Property Tax Elimination Act is about $7 billion; the total for all school property taxes, including businesses, is about $11 billion. Neither amount approaches the $15 billion stated by Speaker McCall. This is simply more deception to support his opposition to elimination.
In the same paragraph Speaker McCall says there is no way to fill the funding gap without a tax shift. What’s his point? Although he makes this sound objectionable, we all know that elimination will require a shift to other taxes; the goal is to shift to taxes that are more equitable than the property tax. Most Pennsylvania homeowners support a tax shift as long as school property taxes are ELIMINATED.
In his third paragraph he wails about difficult economic times and "what the average taxpayer can afford to pay" to eliminate the school property tax. Which is better, a few hundred dollars in sales tax or thousands of dollars in school property tax? Which is better, a few hundred dollars in sales tax or losing your home? This is a baseless argument that is yet another example of making excuses to avoid dealing with the issue.
Next, Speaker McCall whines about the property tax issue being "complex in nature". Without a doubt this is true, but no more so than the enactment of a massive gambling law that was passed in the middle of the night with no public input and little chance for rank-and-file legislators to review the language. Complex laws CAN be quickly enacted if the courage, leadership, and will to do so are present. Unfortunately, these virtues are embraced by few members of the General Assembly, with many who prefer lies, deceit and cowardice to true statesmanship. The taxpayers of Pennsylvania are left to suffer from their inaction and lack of integrity.
Finally, Speaker McCall says he will strive for property tax "relief". The homeowners of Pennsylvania have had enough fraudulent, ill-conceived "relief" schemes that are simply tax increases in disguise. We want total ELIMINATION! Apparently Speaker McCall either just doesn't get it or is callously ignoring the plight of Pennsylvania homeowners.
Speaker McCall’s letter is typical of the kind of trash we've been fed during the past thirty years, so it appears that nothing has changed despite the House majority leadership’s promise of "new management and new priorities".
Please consider forwarding today’s update to friends, family, and co-workers. One way to help end this kind of chicanery is to expose the politicians’ dishonesty and hypocrisy to as many folks as possible.
If you wish, you can also write to Speaker McCall and to your Pennsylvania Representative and Senator to let them know your reaction to Speaker McCall’s letter. Speaker McCall’s contact information is below; you can find your legislators’ information from the “Find Your Legislators” link on the left side of any PTCC web page. Please send any responses to me for comment if you’d care to do so.
Hon. Keith R. McCall
162 West Ridge Street
Lansford, PA 18232
Fax: (570) 645-9526
It's easy to become discouraged by letters like Speaker McCall’s, but don't let it happen. This kind of attempted deception simply makes me more resolute and I hope that it will do the same for you. We cannot allow the self-serving, unethical politicians to trample our rights and we must keep up the fight. As one PTCC subscriber wrote to me: “Sometimes it makes me wonder just how stupid the politicians in Harrisburg think we taxpayers are. Most of us are able to see through the maze of deception that they try to snow us with. WE ARE NOT GOING AWAY."
To all of you, please hang in there and do what you can to help the cause. If we stick together we can beat the underhanded schemes of the politicians who oppose property tax elimination and we WILL get this done.
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One more brief note: Please check out the new “How Can I Help” page on the PTCC website at www.ptcc.us. There you’ll find lots of good suggestions on how to work for school property tax elimination.
As always, my heartfelt thanks go out to all of you who are working to support this effort. Your help is greatly appreciated.
Please feel free to write with comments or suggestions.