State lawmakers discuss property tax elimination

By Denise Larive

Images of people (of all ages) being dragged from their homes, ensuing gun violence, the words, “shoot me now - I have no where else to go,” are disheartening to most property owners in Pennsylvania. They know they could also get thrown out of their homes if their financial circumstances worsen and they fail to pay their property taxes.

Those were real incidents described by some of Pennsylvania’s lawmakers at a Daniel Boone Taxpayer Activists (DBTA) meeting last night on the state’s property tax elimination plan known as House Bill 1776 and Senate Bill 1400.

An unidentified Daniel Boone School District resident asked for the press to make it clear to readers that they don’t want any more people to be thrown out of their homes.

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Twenty-five people attended the two hour meeting at the Keystone Villa at Douglassville, Benjamin Franklin Highway, to hear updates from State Sen. Judith L. Schwank (D-11th), State Rep. David M. Maloney Sr. (R-130th ) and State Rep. Mark Gillen (R-128th ) on their efforts in Harrisburg to get HB 1776 and SB 1400 to the floor for votes on property tax elimination.

Schwank said all Berks County legislators are “signed onto” HB 1776 and there is increasing bipartisan support in the House for the bills that now propose property tax elimination by increasing the personal income tax from 3.07 to 4.34 percent, as well as raising the sales tax from six to seven percent.

“My support for SB 1400 is as strong as it ever was,” said Schwank. “It looks like it is the only thing that will work and more people have had their eyes opened to the possibility. Also need to look at reducing spending. There is a lot of duplication in schools and now more talk about sharing services and staff.”

“What’s changing for a lot of our legislators is reassessment ,” said Schwank. “Some haven’t been reassessed since the 1960’s and people are scared. We will talk about looking at SB 1400 instead of reassessment, which is very controversial. That may stimulate legislators to start talking about this.”

Schwank said the revised HB 1776 and SB 1400 have new formulas and real numbers and projections; if passed, they would increase the state’s real estate industry and house sales.

“The bills have a lot of benefits that haven’t been sold to legislators and there are new legislators in areas where there is new interest in reforming property taxes,” said Schwank.

She said the state school code, written in 1949, must also be revamped to reduce or eliminate the mandates that make things more costly for public school districts, particularly now with charter school and cyber-charter school funding.

The millage rate in the Daniel Boone School District is 28.96 mills with the possibility of a 1.26 millage increase in July as one of four measures by the school board to reduce the potential $5 million 2013-14 budget deficit.

If approved by the school board in June, annual tax bills on a property assessed at $100,000 would increase from $2,896 to $3,022.

David Baldinger, administrator of the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition, said that for 15 years there hasn’t been any enabling legislation and many of the bills before the House are simply distractions from HB 1776 and SB 1400.

He said HB 2300, sponsored by Maloney, Gillen, and others is simply a distraction from HB 1776 and SB 1400.

HB 2300 would “amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow local taxing authorities to completely exclude homes and family farms from property taxes (right now they can only exclude 50 percent of the home’s median assessed value in the taxing jurisdiction), and it would remove the constitutional barrier that prevents the General Assembly from enacting legislation that would provide 100 percent property tax exclusion.”

“Bring 1776 to the floor - we’ll take our chances against HB 2300,” said Baldinger. “The bill has been revised with the correct numbers: $10 billion is paid in property taxes, and if eliminated, there would be $9 billion revenue in the state, house values would increase by 10 percent, construction would increase, and all of that would attract new businesses to Pennsylvania. HB 1776 would be dollar for dollar, no formulas.”

Baldinger said legislators need to keep their eyes on the prize and not chase after other plans/bills.

Rep. Maloney said all of Berks County’s legislators “get the property tax issue.”

“There isn’t a day in Harrisburg when I’m not approached about property taxes or I’m talking about property taxes, including at the recent Pennsylvania Farm Show, but, that isn’t the case with many other state legislators whose districts don’t have high property taxes.”

“It’s a growing problem but it hasn’t been on the radar for many legislators,” said Maloney, “but we’re going to continue pursuing HB 1776 and SB 1400.”

“This isn’t a Daniel Boone, Amity, or Birdsboro problem - it’s a Pennsylvania problem,” said Gillen, “and I’m in favor of property tax elimination so we can continue to live in Pennsylvania. There also has to be school finance reform - the product costs too much.”

DBTA Chairman Richard Martino and David Pool, association co-chair, both of Douglassville, formed the DBTA almost 10 years ago when some residents complained to the school board that their property taxes were as high as $12,000 to $15,000.

Martino said last night that the DBTA has done all it can at the local level except for members to run for a seat on the school board.

He encouraged residents to submit a nomination ballot by the Feb. 19 deadline.

“The past school boards have put us $90 million in the debt,” said Martino, adding, “and some of those members are still on the board, and we need to change that.”

“I see growth in Exeter Township and in Pottstown, but nothing is built here,” said Martino. “Reading Hospital got tired and left. We need to get more people involved with the township supervisors.”

He said more members of the DBTA also need to regularly attend school board meetings.