Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Newspaper: Property tax reform tops legislative to-do list

From The Mercury, an editorial for anyone interested in seeing the elimination of property taxes in Pennsylvania:

Unfinished business.

Sadly, for Pennsylvania citizens that has been a recurring item on the state legislative calendar, and this year is no exception.

The Pennsylvania Legislature returns from its summer recess to plenty of unfinished business, including energy and health initiatives proposed by the governor, open government and campaign finance reform, a smoking ban, transportation funding and the conundrum of property tax relief.

These were among the issues debated for months without resolution before the House and Senate adjourned for summer breaks after a 16-day budget impasse that damaged the already battered reputation of the state Legislature, considered the most expensive in the nation.

At the top of that list in priority for many citizens are the twin issues of property tax relief and school funding reform.

One change on the property tax-reform front is that the state Senate seems to be waking up to the call for change.

State Sen. John C. Rafferty Jr., R-44th Dist., told The Mercury last week that he is working with a coalition that includes Sens. Jane Orie, R-40th Dist.; John Eichelberger, R-30th Dist.; and Mike Folmer, R-48th Dist., on a Senate bill to eliminate property taxes.

The group plans to hold a press conference this month to announce the tax relief measure, which is similar to the School Property Tax Relief Act of 2007 now working its way through the House.

State. Rep. Tom Quigley, R-146th Dist., said he has been working closely with Rep. Sam Rohrer, R-128th Dist., to bring House Democrats on board with the tax relief measure, formerly known as the Commonwealth Caucus Plan. Rohrer’s plan has been endorsed by the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations, which represents 21 groups across the state.

House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese and Majority Whip Keith McCall have hinted they are willing to support the School Property Tax Relief Act of 2007, which would eliminate property taxes and replace them with an expanded sales tax.

While Rohrer and other Republicans have been meeting behind the scenes with Democrats to drum up support for the tax elimination plan, a public pronouncement of support for the plan by the House Democratic leadership is what is needed to get things moving, Quigley said.

In addition to the property tax measure he plans to introduce, Rafferty said the Senate wants to reform school funding. The formula the state uses to provide funding to schools has not been reviewed since the mid-1990s and has led to widespread discrepancies across the state, with some districts receiving 18 percent of their funding from the state while other districts receiving as much as 70 percent.

“We have to look at that formula and restructure it to make it fair to some of the districts that are only getting 18 or 19 percent from the state,” Rafferty said.

Rafferty said he is part of a group with Sens. Stewart Greenleaf, R-12th Dist., and Robert Tomlinson, R-6th Dist., that is working on legislation to address the inequity in state funding of schools.

The issues of property tax relief and school funding reform go hand in hand. Merely eliminating the property tax as a means of funding schools without creating a stable and equitable funding source would not move this commonwealth forward.

In the past, efforts in the House to address these issues have hit a stone wall when they got to the Senate. The fact that nonpartisan efforts are at work in both the House and Senate is encouraging.

Dare we hope? Is this a year when the stalemate may end with change on the taxation and education funding fronts?

Time -- and progress on unfinished business -- will tell.

Copyright 2007, The Mercury

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