Despite renewed special interest attacks at the capitol in Harrisburg, the fight for eliminating the unfair school property tax begun by 79 grassroots taxpayer groups across the state is making some real progress.
Across the 11 counties we represent, the number one question we hear at our town hall meetings is: When will the legislature eliminate school property taxes?
Last year, we introduced a similar proposal drafted by the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations. The Senate Finance Committee held a public hearing on this proposal and we asked for a nonpartisan analysis of the bill to provide detailed funding projections. The Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) identified several problems in the original proposal. Special interest groups have used the report as a weapon against our efforts but we view it as a roadmap to achieve true property tax reform and we have moved quickly to amend the bill.
Last year’s proposal garnered 13 co-sponsors, or 26 percent of the total state Senate. This year’s proposal, Senate Bill 76, corrects the defects in the original bill, as detailed in the 80-page analysis provided by the IFO. Even more importantly, as a result of the grassroots efforts of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations this year, 22 Senators have now co-sponsored the bill – 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats – an increase of 9 Senators from last year. We continue to forge new coalitions and pick up support from all corners of the state. Groups like the Western Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayers, the Wilkes-Barre City Taxpayers Association, and the South Eastern Tax Reform Coalition are leading the charge to eliminate this tax.
The Senate and House Finance Committees have asked the IFO to complete an updated analysis of Senate Bill 76 in the next few months. The issue of funding public schools is a $13 billion problem and we welcome their nonpartisan, professional analysis to ensure we provide a dollar-for-dollar match for basic education.
In the last few months, because of growing grassroots efforts across the state, support for the bill has grown from 13 to 22 State Senators. The number we need to achieve in the Senate is 26 votes for passage, and then it heads over to the House of Representatives, where we need 102 votes. Representatives Jim Cox and Mark Gillen have discussed this proposal with the Governor, and he is on the record with them stating he would sign the bill when it reaches his desk.
We look forward to continuing our bipartisan fight to advance this issue. In our local newspapers, we frequently read about the thousands of sheriff’s sales that occur each year across the state. We hear this fundamental principle every day, from Marietta all the way to West Pittston: No tax should have the power to leave you homeless.
Op-Ed column by Senator David G. Argall (R-29), Senator Mike Folmer (R-48), Senator Judy Schwank (D-11), and Senator John Yudichak (D-14).