The School Property Tax Elimination Act, House Bill 1275, which was written in an effort to eliminate school property taxes for all Pennsylvania residents, was defeated on Tuesday, Jan. 29 by a 148-47 margin.Many southern Chester County residents learned about the bill trough a meeting held by Christiana resident John McCartney last month. McCartney and Dave Baldinger, an administrator for the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition (PTCC) encouraged everyone at the meeting to call their legislators as often as possible, urging them to vote to pass the bill. Local state representatives received phone calls in droves, but the pressure evidently was not enough.
The bill, which has been around for six years, would abolish school property tax and replace the money with the current six percent sales tax expanded to services, including lawyer fees, mechanics fees, haircuts and more.
The extra money from the sales tax would go directly to the schools and would provide more than enough to meet minimum pupil funding for every school in the state.
House Bill 1275 sat in the Appropriations Committee for over six weeks without receiving a fair hearing, so supporters attached it as an amendment to HB 1600 to ensure it would be debated.
"Unfortunately, the amendment was defeated on Tuesday," said Baldinger, "mostly because the legislators bent to the will of the special interests and marched in lockstep with their caucus leaders." The original draft of HB 1275 included a three percent sales tax on food and clothing as well as the elimination of school property tax for businesses. The Democratic Leadership worked closely with State Representative Samuel Rohrer (R-128), HB1275's primary sponsor to negotiate a draft that would satisfy both parties.
Among the compromises made were the elimination of the three percent sales tax on food and clothing, and the retention of 50 percent of the property tax on businesses.
"In the end, the Democratic Leadership refused to endorse the bill," said Baldinger, "mainly because Rep. Rohrer refused to retain all property taxes on business. Doing this would have delayed enactment by at least two years because a constitutional amendment would have been required under those circumstances."
PTCC conducted a poll early last month in which they asked the question, "If school property taxes on your home are completely eliminated, do you object to the reduction of school property taxes for business by 50 percent?" Ninety-two percent of the respondents said no. "This information was sent to the Democratic Leadership," said Baldinger, "but was ignored."
State Representative Art Hershey (R-13) voted to pass the bill; Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-100) did not. Turn to the opinions page to read why Cutler did not approve the bill.
Some of the reasons stated from those who opposed HB 1275 were: 'If property taxes are eliminated, there will be a mass migration to Pennsylvania and our infrastructure will be overwhelmed' 'We shouldn't have to pay tax on attorney's fees' 'The four year phase-in of HB 1275 will take too long' 'The people of Pennsylvania will start a revolution because of the new taxes' 'No reduction of property taxes for businesses, even at 50 percent' 'It taxes funerals.'
"The opponents arguments were nothing but lame excuses for not having the courage to oppose the special interests and their caucus leaders to do what is right for Pennsylvania homeowners," said Baldinger. "They have betrayed their constituents and sold them out for their own self-interest."
The entire 203 member House is up for reelection this year. "These lawmakers do not deserve our support and should have their jobs eliminated in this year's elections so we can find representatives who will truly represent their constituents," Baldinger said.
McCartney strongly believes in the power of numbers. He consistently urges as many people as he can reach to call their legislators again and again. "I have heard a number of stories that we have made an impact on the politicians in our area," he said. "Keep up the good work; leave no doubt in the politician's mind that we will remember him/her positively or negatively when election time rolls around," he said. "You'll have two chances to get rid of those politicians who don't care about their constituents-the primary election and the final chance. Remember, we have power, the power to vote anyone out of office!"
An amendment that was approved by the House last Tuesday night, by a 159-36 margin, will, if eventually signed by the governor, take all of the gambling proceeds and give them to senior citizens who earn less than $40,000 a year. This amendment, supported by Rep. John Perzel (R-172), eliminates the property tax relief from gambling that was promised to all homeowners two years ago with Act 1.
"This is good news for low-income seniors who are having problems just staying in their homes," said Baldinger, "and we (PTCC) think this goes a long way toward helping the most vulnerable group in our society, [but] this amendment was obviously pandering to the senior vote (the biggest voting bloc) during an election year."
Although HB 1275 was defeated as an amendment, it is still in the Appropriations Committee as a bill and could be brought out for a vote if the Democratic House Leadership would be willing to make a deal with HB 1275's sponsors.
Baldinger said 75 percent of the objections were based on banking or lawyer taxes, "it was obvious the lobbyists got to them," he said. It is possible that the democrats will cut a deal with the sponsors of 1275 to exempt those special interest groups from the extended sales tax. "Politically, the democrats are in great trouble," Baldinger said, because they've been promising property tax relief for two years and have yet to provide it.
"The debate still has a long way to go and many more votes will have to be taken," he said. "It's time that these politicians stop the 'business as usual' and tend to the people they represent."
"If you are a 'Baby Boomer'," said McCartney, "remind your politician that you are retired or will shortly retire and are or will be one of a large voting block. One thing us retired folks don't appreciate is having our savings and/or homes taken from us!" (Editor's note: McCartney is a retired RN and currently works two part time jobs so that he can afford to stay in his home.)
"Just please remember that we are far from finished," Baldinger said. "There are many avenues still available to us to achieve our goal of total school property tax elimination and we will continue the fight. I hope that you will likewise continue your support."