Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Enemy of the good

According to Voltaire, the pursuit of perfection should not derail what is good. Unfortunately when it comes to property taxes, Harrisburg cannot even achieve good enough.

A recent study published in Kiplinger.com reports that Pennsylvania is the worst place to retire based on taxes (click on the image to the right for an enlarged view). According to the report, “You might expect that Pennsylvania, second only to Florida in its percentage of residents 65 and older, would cut seniors some slack. While it does offer a property-tax rebate of up to $500 to some older homeowners, our hypothetical couple's $60,000 income was too high to qualify.” The table above shows the top (most favorable), middle, and bottom (least favorable) 5 states to retire in based on taxes.

This is another example of how our antiquated system of collecting taxes is strangling homeowners, and pitting seniors against parents in the ongoing battle to fund education. Unfortunately our elected officials in Harrisburg have been unable to agree upon an alternative to the current system. After failed attempts at half-measures such as Act 72, Act 1, and the under-consideration HB1600, Harrisburg has shied away from more substantive reform alternatives such as
the School Property Tax Elimination Act (HB1275). At the heart of the battle against true property tax reform are the special interest groups who seek to protect their turf despite the fact that many Pennsylvanians will be denied relief.

There was such optimism when the discussion of tax reform began last year. After Act 72 and Act 1 failed, the public thought it had sent a message to its legislators that they wanted change, not a tax shift. And it seemed like many in Harrisburg were listening. Our own state representative Chris King sponsored several local public hearings on the matter, and again the public was able to speak in favor of eliminating school property taxes. As the debate carried on in Harrisburg, the idea appeared to be gaining steam. But despite the best efforts of Bucks County people and our local representatives, the political leaders in Harrisburg couldn't agree on the best reform package. They even considered merging a couple of the different bills but those ideas quickly fell. As the debates concluded, we were no closer to property tax reform than we are now.

All you can do is to keep plugging away. Start by contacting our state representative, Chris King, and encourage him to continue the fight until sweeping reforms are passed by the House. And when that is complete, contact Tommy Tomlinson and demand that the Senate follows suit. Undoubtedly there are many reasons why our elected officials can't come to an agreement on true, meaningful property tax reform, but in the end that is not something we should accept.


Anonymous said...

I was upset to read that Chris King didn't support the tax elimination bill but he did agree to giving gambling revenues to just the seniors (I think that bill failed). Yes I feel bad for senior citizens but at least they're getting 100% of social security and medicaid. Neither of those will be around when I retire, but I still have to kick in much of my paycheck to support those programs.

Robert_McMonagle said...

French may not translate to English very well, but that tortuous fabrication of Voltaire's quote dovetails nicely with the rest of your post.
Calling the School Property Tax Elimination Bill a "more substantive reform alternative" is like naming Billy Crystal rookie-of-the-year. That bill, sponsored by right-winger Sam Rohrer, (R-Berks) relies on taxing professional services, like lawyers, accountants, engineers, etc. It has NO static revenue stream that can be counted-on for budgeting purposes (it also called for a .3% increase in state income tax). The arithmetic just did not work; the slightest fluctuation in the economy would skew projections and bankrupt the schools. There is a reason it was voted-down 163-to-40.
Of course, you can go ahead and blame State Rep Chris King, and sic people on him like you did in your post, but tax reform is a b.s. euphemism for tax shifting, and HB1275 did not even do that.
Maybe the state assembly can go on some taxpayer-funded retreat where they "learn how to speak to one another", like our dynamic school board that is getting so much accomplished.

raise-the-sales-tax said...

I think both posts make good points. First, you can not give money or a break to just one group, such as seniors. It creates class warfare. Especially when there are seniors don't need the break. I don't know what Chris King was thinking. R. Mcmonagle is also correct when he says that the revenue stream was just not there. The only fair way to do the "tax shift" is to increase sales tax, see what that gives you, and then do a partial property tax reduction. If you are at JB Dawsons a few times a week, then you are a senior who is not poor, you will pay extra sales tax and save a few bucks on property taxes. If you can not afford to spend, you will not be out there spending and your slight decrease in property tax will be a net gain.

SK said...

I agree with raise-the-sales-tax that putting more emphasis on discretionary purchases is the way to go, but I think there were many legislators who also thought that was unfair. There is no perfect solution because the real definition of reform is "let someone else pay for it".
I don't understand what point Robert_McMonagle is trying to make. The post doesn't tell people to attack Chris King, it just says to contact him. If we shouldn't contact our local official, who should we contact? But as I read his comment a second time and noticed the reference to Sam Rohrer as a right-winger with a notation of his party (R-Berks), it became obvious that robert_mcmonagle is turning this into a political battle. I've followed Mr. O'Connor on this blog and his last website, and he never came across as pushing one party over the other and that is why so many people trust him. I agree that the school board retreat seems like a waste of time but the perception is that it is happening because Mr. O'Connor was ready to blow the whistle on some political influence with a recent employee. The progress in the district may be slow but at least there is progress.

Allow me to clarify said...

McMonagle is an outspoken Middletown Supervisor and a bigwig in the local democratic party. It's an election year for Chris King so that's why McMonagle is going after Mr. O'Connor. I don't understand why because he didn't say anything bad about King, just Harrisburg in general (he's right to do so). Politicians get hyper-sensitive during election years.

Anonymous said...

One of the other middletown supervisors is stepping down. Maybe McMonagle posted a nasty comment on her blog too :)

Anonymous said...

You've done what you do best Mr. McMonagle by finding the flaws in an idea but not offering a suitable alternative. Concerns for a static revenue stream are valid, but the alternative of maintainng property taxes are absurd, and that's what we are left with. I'd also argue that the slight increase in income tax does offer some level of stability to the revenue stream. Do you even care what is happening to retired folk or people on fixed incomes?
By criticizing without improving, you have solidified our last place standing in the category of best places to retire. Even though you are a "bigwig" in the democratic party, I hope you are not guiding Chris King's career.
I am sure you won't have time to respond to this as you are getting ready to welcome Lisa Pflaumer's replacement, Russ Kavana. After all, he is next in line based on the logic you used to replace Marseglia with Thompson, right?
(Editor's Note - Portions of this comment have been edited for content)

ND said...

Off this subject but still board related...is there a way to get the "Board Policies" published on the Neshaminy website. We hear about changes to this and that but what are they? It's like top secret until something pops up! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Is is true the retreat is being held at Chuck-E-Cheese?

Bill Spitz said...

Replying to nd:

School board policies are now up on the website. Go to www.neshaminy.org, click on Departments at the top, then select Policies and Procedures.

ND said...

Thanks Bill!!