This November 7th, a question will show up on the ballot of millions of Pennsylvanians:
“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?”
If you’re like most people, you have no idea what that means. I re-read it 5 times, and it still doesn’t make complete sense. The short version? They want to eliminate the Property Tax.
A lot of people may be thrilled by this, but hidden away is what this plan actually does, and the startling long-term effects it will have.
While the vote at this point is simply to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow for it to happen, this plan would allow counties to eliminate the school portion of the property taxes that they force their residents to pay. Years ago a law capped the amount counties were allowed to allocate for schools at 50%, thus decreasing funding for schools statewide. This would, in essence, be the last nail in the coffin for public schools in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
For some residents the idea of cutting as much as 50% off their property bill sounds great. Many I spoke to enjoyed the prospect, and some childless people who oppose their taxes going to public schools were thrilled. They were not happy to hear the harsh realities.
For starters, many counties would not be able to get rid of this tax for 20 years. Numerous counties across Pennsylvania have taken out bonds to help pay for schools, a good number of which last up to 20 years, giving them no choice but to keep their property taxes until the debt is paid. While some may see this as a way to make counties compete, it’s obviously not that simple. Uprooting a family from one county to another in the hopes of better schools tends to be made before a child is born, and the idea of changing your entire life because your taxes stayed up while another county may have lower taxes and the same school quality, it’s hard to quantify, especially when you consider that you don’t know how long those schools will sustain that quality level.
Then you have the immediate effects: Raising the State Sales Tax and taxing more items. Right now it sits at 6%, but eliminating the school portion of property taxes still demands there is some funding for schools. To make up for it, the base level of sales taxes would rise to 7%. In Philadelphia, that would mean an immediate rise of 9%. Counties would have to raise their sales taxes as well, on a case by case basis, meaning the sales taxes in some communities could be between 7% and 12%. Additionally, items like food, clothing and shoes over $50, non-prescription medicine, public transit, child care services, diapers, and multiple other non-taxed items would face the wrath of Harrisburg. It will make the Philadelphia Soda Tax look like nothing.
The middle class of Pennsylvania will be hit the absolute hardest with a massive rise in the State Income Tax, currently at 3.07% and proposed to go up to 4.95% if this were to pass and become law. A worker paying $1200 in taxes would see it balloon up to $1980.
Taxing things like public transit will severely hurt ridership, making it tougher for the poorest among this state to go to work and provide for their families and making the burden on the middle class even tougher to get to work. SEPTA would see a massive dip in ridership, and employees in Philadelphia from New Jersey may start to drive instead, or look for new jobs. It will detour job growth in this state.
Higher income and sales taxes will deter businesses from coming to Pennsylvania. Why would a company like Amazon want to move their headquarters to a state where they know they’re going to be nickeled and dimed as much as possible due to these new taxes? Small businesses owners will suffer as well as many boutique clothing stores will now be forced to also collect an additional sales tax on items they never did before, and corner bodegas will see sales drop thank to the new taxes on food and diapers.
So who will benefit the most from this plan? The wealthiest of Pennsylvania, of course. They’ll see the taxes on their properties decrease, saving them thousands a year, but as the taxes on clothing and other goods and services go up, they will simply do their shopping outside of the state instead of paying higher taxes whenever possible. There will be no trickle-down benefit for the working class from this cast of people, only the scraps left for our public schools.
The man behind this push is Ron Boltz. Hailing from Pine Grove, PA, Boltz has been fighting to eliminate Property Taxes to pay for schools since 2008 when he saw the estimate for his property taxes on his new property go from $2020 to $4800. He was successful in appealing this, but he has made it his mission to eliminate it ever since. In 2011, he spoke for 3 hours to 65 people with Republican State Senator David G. Argall. This year with the support from his group of like-minded anti-tax residents, Pennsylvania Liberty Alliance, and Senator Argall, he was able to get it on the ballot for the first time.
Controls of schools and their funding will then primarily come from Harrisburg. As a Philadelphia resident, I can tell you first-hand that this is destined for failure. We’ve seen a massive lack in funding, and idea after idea to help fund them, from sugary drink taxes to increase taxes on cigarettes, to increasing taxes on alcohol. Nothing has been a solid fix, and nothing has helped to stem the tide of losing massive amounts of money for our, sadly, failing school system.
Yet nearly not a word has come out about this. I spoke to a friend of mine, a former Republican who lives in Cheltenham, and his words boiled down to his belief that it wasn’t seen as a valid threat. “If it was, the Unions would be up in arms about this. They must not see this as having a chance of passing.” Yes, the Teachers Unions have been silent about this, and that is a question I’ll leave to them to answer themselves. One group, the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials which represents a little more than 3000 teachers, has come out against the proposal as it stands.
We’re about to see the beginning of the destruction of Public Schools in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the opening salvo of the same systematic destruction of public education that Philadelphia has seen from Harrisburg for the last 10+ years. The ballot this November 7th will give us all the option to decide if this is the faith we want for our Commonwealth. Will we look out of the common good for each others and make sure our state is competitive and leads in education, or will be become a state taxed to the hilt that forces the poor to suffer, the middle class to shrink, and the upper class to enjoy the spoils?
Updated October 15th to link to the Office of the Philadelphia City Commissioner to the full text of the amendment being proposed.