15 June 2006
During the past few years I have asked you to carry a lot of water for this cause; I’m apologizing in advance for asking you to go to the well again.
Please copy or print this letter for distribution or forward it to as many of your acquaintances as possible. We must get the word to Pennsylvania taxpayers about the farce that has been foisted upon them by the Pennsylvania Legislature.
This was a disappointing week for Pennsylvania taxpayers. What made it sadder was the collusion between the leaders of BOTH parties to ensure that no school tax reform bill would be passed except the bogus one that they promoted – HB39, the Rendell “Slots for Tots” Bill, the same one that they tried to force upon us before the primary elections.
This bill, as I’ll explain in a moment, does nothing to relieve the burden on Pennsylvania taxpayers and was not really enacted with our interests in mind. It is a minimalist, tightly-focused bill that passed for only two reasons: To give frightened lawmakers the ability to tout their tax “reform” in time for the November elections, and to legitimize casino gaming.
Despite what the newspapers said this morning, there is little to recommend this bill. For those of you who are unfamiliar with its provisions, here is a brief synopsis:
• Is ostensibly funded by yet-to-be-realized slot machine revenue.
• Provides, in 2007, ~$500/year rebate to those homeowners and some renters 65 and older who earn less than $15,000/year.
• Provides about half as much to those 65 and older who earn between $15,000 and $35,000.
• Provides nothing for anyone else until slots revenue begins, probably not before 2010, except for the provision below.
• Borrows ~$200 million from the lottery fund for initial benefits until slots revenue becomes available. This will have to be repaid before all other homeowners see any relief.
• Will give ~$500/year to all taxpayers who pass a referendum in their school district that shifts revenue from property taxes to a maximum 1% earned income tax. This could happen as early as 2007.
• Provides immediate relief for ALL taxpayers in the cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Scranton by replacing part of those cities’ 1% wage tax. Taxpayers in the remainder of the state get nothing.
• Provides for a voter referendum for all school tax increases greater than the increase in the cost of living index as computed, through an arcane formula, by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
• Provides school districts with at least ten exceptions to the COLA rule, above, essentially making the rule meaningless.
Consider, for a moment, the ramifications of this bill:
• Unless your district passes the tax shift referendum, you will
see no relief until at least 2010 if you do not fit the eligibility rules.
• If your district does pass the referendum, you will receive an amount, approximately $500/year, that is probably less than the tax increases that your district imposes each year.
• If your district passes a referendum for a shift to a 1% EIT, families that earn above $50,000/year will actually pay MORE in school taxes.
• Encourages and promotes future tax increases by forcing school boards to increase taxes up to the non-referendum limit each year in order to build a reserve to avoid possible future referendums.
• Is funded by “vapor” money – slots revenue that is not available now and will not be in the foreseeable future.
• Estimates of available gaming money are just that – estimates. No one yet knows how much money will actually be generated.
• Unfairly funnels more relief to three Pennsylvania cities while the remainder of the state’s taxpayers have to settle for less.
• Does nothing to address the funding disparity between poor and wealthy school districts.
• Convinced that they have deceived us into thinking that we have received property tax “reform”, these lawmakers will not consider this issue again for the foreseeable future.
On Tuesday night the House had the opportunity to pass the Commonwealth Caucus Plan which would have eliminated, for all time, school property taxes by shifting revenue to a balanced variety of other sources. These sources were: A reduction in the sales tax to 5% but with a broader base of taxable items; a 2% increase in the real estate transfer tax; and a ½% increase in the state income tax.
None of these taxes by themselves are particularly burdensome but, taken in concert, provide the money necessary to totally fund our schools. In addition, the distribution method in this bill would have more equitably funded ALL school districts, ending the disparity that now exists between the wealthy and poorer districts.
Finally, and most importantly, the Plan would have eliminated the taxing ability of local school boards.
The Commonwealth Caucus Plan was dead on arrival on the floor of the House because of the collusion between Republican and Democratic leaderships to kill this bill as quickly as possible to move on to HB39. In their zeal to promote the Governor’s gaming ambitions and pass something – anything – before the elections that would look like tax reform, they did a huge, almost criminal, disservice to the people of Pennsylvania.
The members of the legislature who voted for this bill think that Pennsylvania taxpayers are stupid and unaware, and that we will not react to this latest insult. THEY ARE WRONG! The lawmakers who voted down the Commonwealth Caucus Plan and passed this phony “relief” bill have no morals, integrity, or courage. For their deception these cowards deserve nothing more than our utter contempt and our furious outcry for their ouster in November.
I have posted below a list of those lawmakers who voted FOR the Commonwealth Caucus Plan and a list of those who voted AGAINST HB39. I would strongly encourage you to cast your vote in November against anyone who is NOT on one of these lists. That includes the Governor and the leadership of both parties in the House of Representatives. THESE CORRUPT LAWMAKERS MUST GO!
I would also ask you to call or write to your Representative again to voice your displeasure and to demand total school property tax elimination or be faced with finding a new job this fall. It also might be a good idea to thank those who supported the CC Bill and voted against HB39.
My comments in this letter are not based on partisan politics; I have equal contempt for members of both parties in this issue and have never mentioned my own party affiliation. My only concern is fiscal stability for you, me, and the residents of Pennsylvania.
Please let me know if you have any questions, comments, or concerns.
Finally, Representative Sam Rohrer, the prime sponsor of the Commonwealth Caucus Plan, has stated that he will “not give up the fight” to have the plan passed. With our support we may still have a chance at true school property tax relief for all Pennsylvania homeowners.
My heartfelt thanks to you for any help that you can offer.
Here are the good guys:
The Legislators who voted FOR the Commonwealth Caucus Plan:
Allen (Berks, Schuylkill), Argall (Berks, Schuylkill), Armstrong (Lancaster), Baker (Bradford, Tioga), Baldwin (Lancaster),Barrar (Chester, Delaware), Bastian (Bedford, Somerset), Birmelin (Monroe, Pike, Wayne), Bunt (Montgomery), Caltagirone (Berks), Cappelli (Lycoming), Cawley (Lackawanna), Clymer (Bucks), Creighton (Lancaster), Denlinger (Lancaster), Diven (Allegheny), Ellis (Butler), Fairchild (Snyder, Union), Feese (Lycoming), Fichter (Montgomery), Fleagle (Franklin), Forcier (Crawford), Gabig (Cumberland), Geist (Blair), Gillespie (York), Godshall (Montgomery), Goodman (Schuylkill), Haluska (Cambria), Harris (Juniata, Mifflin, Snyder), Hasay (Columbia, Luzerne, Wyoming), Hennessey (Chester), Hershey (Chester), Hess (Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon), Kauffman (Cumberland, Franklin), Keller, M (Franklin, Perry), Leh (Berks), Mackereth (York), Maher (Allegheny, Washington), Maitland (Adams, Franklin), Major (Susquehanna, Wayne, Wyoming), Markosek (Allegheny, Westmoreland), Marsico (Dauphin), McGill (Montgomery), McIlhattan (Armstrong, Clarion), McNaughton (Dauphin), Miller, R (York), Miller, S (Berks), Mustio (Allegheny), Nickol (Adams, York), Petrarca (Armstrong, Westmoreland), Phillips (Northumberland, Snyder), Pickett (Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna), Pyle (Armstrong, Indiana), Quigley (Montgomery), Rapp (Forest, McKean, Warren), Reichley (Berks, Lehigh), Roberts (Fayette), Rohrer (Berks), Santoni (Berks), Sather (Blair, Huntingdon, Mifflin), Saylor (York), Scavello (Monroe), Schroder (Chester), Semmel (Berks, Lehigh), Shaner (Fayette, Westmoreland), Smith, B (Cumberland, York), Sonney (Erie), Stairs (Fayette, Westmoreland), Stern (Blair), Stevenson, R (Butler, Mercer), Stevenson, T (Allegheny), Yewcic (Cambria, Somerset), Zug (Lebanon)
The Legislators who voted AGAINST HB39:
Armstrong (Lancaster), Baldwin (Lancaster), Bastian (Somerset), Benninghoff (Centre), Boyd (Lancaster), Bunt (Montgomery), Buxton (Dauphin), Cappelli (Lycoming), Clymer (R-Bucks), Crahalla (Montgomery), Creighton (Lancaster), Denlinger (Lancaster), Ellis (Butler), Feese (Lycoming), Fichter (Montgomery), Forcier (Crawford), Gabig (Cumberland), Geist (Blair), Gillespie (York), Gingrich (Lebanon), Grell (R-Cumberland), Haluska (Cambria), Hasay (Luzerne), Hennessey (Chester), Hickernell (Lancaster), Kauffman (Franklin), Keller, M. (Perry), Mackereth (York), Maher (Allegheny), Maitland (Adams), Marsico (Dauphin), McGill (Montgomery), McNaughton (Dauphin), Metcalfe (Butler), Miller, R. (York), Miller, S. (Berks), Mustio (Allegheny), Nailor (Cumberland), Nickol (York), Payne (Dauphin), Pyle (Armstrong), Quigley (Montgomery), Rapp (Warren), Reed (Indiana), Rohrer (Berks), Ross (Chester), Sather (Huntingdon), Saylor (York), Schroder (Chester), Semmel (Lehigh), Smith, B. (York), Sonney (Erie), Stairs (Westmoreland), Stern (Blair), Stevenson, R (Mercer), Stevenson, T. (Allegheny), Taylor, E. (Chester), True (Lancaster), Turzai (Allegheny), Vitali (Delaware), Yewcic (Cambria).