By FRAN MAYE
Proposed legislation sponsored by state Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-9) to freeze school property taxes for senior citizens will be one of the first bills to be debated when state lawmakers return from summer recess later this year.
Pileggi, of Chadds Ford, the state Senate majority leader, wants to freeze property taxes for homeowners age 65 and older. His bill, Senate bill 299, is known at the Taxpayer Relief Act, but it does not specifically address ways to pay for the freeze. One possibility mentioned by Pileggi is legalizing keno-style lottery games. Keno is an electronic numbers game.
“There has been a concern recently about the impact of increasing property taxes on senior citizens,” Pileggi said. “This (SB 299) presents an alternative that is achievable and the concept is sound. It simply comes down to finding the necessary revenue.”
According to Pileggi’s estimates, it will cost the state $76.1 million to implement a senior citizen property tax freeze in the first year, and $347.2 million by the fifth year.
Pileggi’s bill already has 28 sponsors – including several Democrats -- in the 50-member Senate. Under the Pileggi’s proposal, married couples would be covered even if one spouse in younger than 65, or when the spouse older than 65 dies, or the younger spouse no longer gets the benefit until turning 65.
Even if Pileggi’s bill passes both House and Senate, Gov. Tom Corbett has stated he will not support it unless it is revenue neutral -- that is, it can pay for itself.
Revenue from small games of change is a potential source of revenue and shares of ever-growing casino tax funds is another source, Pileggi maintains. The state has 12 licensed casinos.
“Seniors are facing a crunch right now and they need relief,” Pileggi said. “I’ve got tremendous support from seniors.”
Jerry Shesney of Warminster, a leading advocate of property tax relief for senior citizens, said he has collected 10,000 signatures statewide supporting Pileggi’s a property tax freeze for senior citizens.
“We want to get this on the floor for a vote,” he said. “I dare them (lawmakers) to vote against it. Everybody wants to put this kind of legislation through, but nobody does anything.”
Shesney has circulated petitions to senior centers in Chester, Bucks and Montgomery counties seeking support for senior property tax relief.
Shesney said lawmakers can find ways to supplant the revenue lost.
“They always find the money for pet projects,” he said of lawmakers. “It’s just a matter of priorities. We have 10,000 people in Pennsylvania who are losing their homes every year because they can’t pay the property taxes anymore. We’re trying to encourage seniors to make a little noise.”
Richard Chevrefils, state director for The American Association of Retired People, said the AARP has not taken a position on Pileggi’s proposed bill.
“The bill….requires the state to compensate local taxing authorities for lost revenue lost to such a freeze, but gives no indication how that compensation should be funded,” Chevrefils said in a letter to AARP members. “Until that determination is made, AARP cannot endorse the legislation.”