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05 August 2008

The Games Continue!

Dear Friends,

This is the first PTCC update in quite a while because there has not been much happening in Harrisburg since the budget was completed. I’ll try to bring you up to date on what has transpired since then.

HB 1275

The plan to attach the School Property Tax Elimination Act (HB 1275) language as an amendment to the education funding bill fell apart when the bill was the last to be debated as part of the budget. Whether this happened by chance or by the House leadership’s design, it was too late to debate 1275 and the amendment would almost certainly have failed.

Representative Sam Rohrer has now filed a discharge resolution to force HB 1275 out of the Appropriations Committee where it has been bottled up by the Democratic leadership since last year. This action will force the bill onto the floor for debate sometime during the September/October session but it’s doubtful that there will be enough time remaining before the election to take any substantive action on the bill.

HB 2199

However, it has been reported that Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese has promised Democratic Representative Tom Yewcic that HB 2199, his companion bill to HB 1275 that calls for a constitutional amendment to abolish property taxes, will be allowed to the floor for debate. This is an uncomplicated bill that could possibly be approved by both the House and Senate before the election and would be a substantial step toward elimination during the new 2009-2010 legislative session. We’ll have more plans for the promotion of HB 2199 as more information becomes available.

Perzel vs. Levdansky, AKA the Rs vs. the Ds

Another property tax bill may possibly come to the floor of the House for debate in September. This bill is our old friend HB 1600 and has quite a story that I’m sure will infuriate you. The circumstances surrounding HB 1600 demonstrate how little regard some members of the General Assembly have for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania.

Do you remember the original HB 1600 that was promoted by Democratic Representative David Levdansky? It called for a 0.5% increase in the sales tax and a 0.22% increase in the income tax for an approximate $400 property tax reduction and was the Democratic leadership’s preferred vehicle for property tax “relief”. The PTCC and PCTA opposed this bill because of the temporary relief it offered while imposing two new taxes.

The Levdansky version of 1600 was defeated in January 2008 by a gut-and-replace amendment that was written by Philadelphia Republican Representative John Perzel. This amendment completely removed Levdansky’s original language and replaced it with a proposal to eliminate property taxes for seniors over 65 earning less than $40,000 by using all available slot machine revenue. This is a very popular stance but the bill doesn’t work financially – the demand for relief will quickly increase as more baby boomers retire and property taxes increase and the slots revenue will not be able to keep pace. But that really doesn’t matter since the amendment accomplished its goal…

Ding! Ding! Round one winner: Republicans. This was a score in the “R” column because the Perzel amendment defeated the Democrats’ plan.

After the Levdansky version of 1600 went down in flames the Democratic leadership panicked and returned all property tax bills to the Finance Committee (which is chaired by Representative Levdansky) to resign them to a slow death.

Suddenly on July 3 after a discharge resolution was filed by Representative Perzel, HB 1600 popped out of the Finance Committee with a new two part amendment that would freeze property taxes in 2009 and would force the General Assembly to eliminate property taxes by 2010. The bill is now in the Appropriations Committee.

The Democrats know that this bill has ZERO chance of passage by both the House and Senate because there is insufficient time before the election and, besides, probably would have problems anyway because the politicians wouldn’t want to back themselves into a corner by obligating themselves to achieve elimination by 2010. Knowing that this bill will die on the floor, they’ve effectively defeated the Perzel Republican version of HB 1600.

Ding! Ding! Round two winner: Democrats. Besides defeating Perzel by advancing an amendment that is sure to kill the bill, this move also gives them the ability to brag about their efforts for elimination just in time for the election - and they did just that in a recent House Democratic Caucus newsletter.

The real insult is a quote from Rep. Levdansky in the August 2 edition of the Connellsville Daily Courier: "My bill provides the ultimate in property tax relief -- it eliminates the tax entirely -- freezing millage rates next year will halt any tax increases before school property taxes would be eliminated in 2010”. What unabashed garbage!

During the property tax debate in January, Representative Jim Cox pointedly asked Representative Levdansky at least three times if he supports total property tax elimination; Levdansky avoided the question all three times. Now he suddenly is the champion of elimination? Where was this idea six months ago? The upcoming election wouldn’t have anything to do with his amazing change of heart, would it? This is nothing more than pure pandering. Why not support HB 1275 if you’re so intent on elimination, Representative Levdansky, and get the job done NOW?

Are you angry yet? You should be! These cynical political games are the primary focus of the leadership and many of the members of our dysfunctional legislature. And while they scheme and play them they don’t care in the least about doing the job for which they were elected – protecting and serving the people of Pennsylvania. While one party tries to beat the other, the taxpayers of Pennsylvania pay the price and good people lose their homes to relentlessly escalating property taxes. The legislators of both parties who participate in these games are reprehensible and need to be removed from office in November wherever possible.

I’m sorry for the rant, but I believe that it’s important that you understand the challenge we’re facing in our fight to eliminate school property taxes and the need to eliminate the jobs of the lawmakers who manipulate the legislative process at the expense of our financial security.

That’s the current situation. Except for the possibility of passage for HB 2199, don’t expect anything of any value to happen before the election – we must now set our sights on the new legislative session in 2009. In the meantime, we’ll refocus our efforts to try to defeat in November those politicians who oppose true property tax reform through elimination. The PTCC and PCTA will be issuing a voters’ guide in a few weeks.

We WILL win this battle but we must be patient and persistent. Don’t become discouraged and don’t give up!

Building Momentum

On a brighter note, the school property tax bills that were mailed in early July have many folks very upset. Not only have many school districts substantially raised property taxes but the promised “relief” from gambling money was exceedingly paltry in most districts. In fact, in many of these districts the “relief” was completely negated by increased property taxes. These factors have caused much discontent and have helped to rally support for our efforts.

The PTCC subscriber list has increased by more than 400 in the past four weeks, PTCC website hits are up by more than 90%, and our statewide organization, the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations (PCTA), has added two new taxpayer advocacy groups for a total of 29. Our momentum is building quickly and all of the new supporters will be a huge help!

The two new PCTA member groups are:

AVCANS (Allegheny Valley Citizens Against New School) from Allegheny County

AVCANS was organized to fight a non-responsive school board. The Allegheny Valley SD board insists on building an unnecessary new school over the objections of the taxpayers, adding $24 million in debt. As an example of the arrogance of this school board, here’s a quote from the AVCANS website:

“To show you how the board feels about increasing taxes, a comment made by Mr. Redman, Board President, says it all. When a citizen pointed out the fact that many senior citizens on fixed incomes are losing their homes because of increased taxes, Mr. Redman said, "good, maybe when they move out we can get people in there to pay taxes". Such an insensitive and callous statement shows no concern for the taxpayers of this district.”

Oxford Area Taxpayers Alliance from Chester County

This group has a huge challenge. This year the Oxford board raised their homeowners’ property taxes by 14% (the largest increase in Chester County) and has predicted a 12% increase for next year. To add insult to injury, immediately following the announcement of this year's increase the board gave the Oxford superintendent a $50,000 salary increase that was not a part of her contract. Due in no small part to OATA’s advocacy the superintendent’s raise was rescinded and she resigned last month!

The PCTA extends a hearty “WELCOME!” to AVCANS and OATA as a part of our statewide coalition. We’re sure that they will be a great asset to our property tax elimination efforts! The complete list of PCTA members is available under the “About the PCTA” tab on any PTCC page.

If you’d like to organize a group in your area and become a member of the PCTA, please contact any PCTA member group or write to me at pataxpayers@gmail.com. The PCTA members will be pleased to assist you in any way possible.

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That’s all for now. Look for another update in a few weeks as the legislature re-convenes in September and we get closer to the election.

If you have comments about today’s update, please add them to the PTCC blog – the link to the blog is available from the top menu bar of any PTCC page. Please don’t be hesitant to share your thoughts!

My thanks to all of you for your continuing support and for all of the effort that you’ve put forth in support of property tax elimination. It is greatly appreciated.

For the cause,

David Baldinger
PTCC Administrator