Monday, October 15, 2007

Broken promises on tax relief

What do Rep. John Perzel's "Older Pennsylvanian Property Tax Elimination Act" and Rep. Jay Moyer's "Senior Property Tax Freeze Bill" have in common?

Both measures are the latest attempts by elected officials to fool senior citizens (who are the most consistent voters) into giving Pennsylvania lawmakers another free pass on the property tax issue. The shell game has been going on for 30 years.

Lawmakers promise to tackle property tax reform in Harrisburg, but break their promises to the voters as soon as they get into office. When voters start threatening to kick out the career politicians, the legislators come up with various schemes to address property taxes.

It's a vicious cycle that can only come to end with the passage of the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007 or the ouster of the majority of the current Legislature.

Perzel's plan would eliminate property taxes for Pennsylvania residents who are 65 or older and earn up to $40,000 a year (that's about 600,000 people). Moyer's plan would freeze property taxes senior citizens pay on their homes at current levels.

If you were under the impression that Gov. Ed Rendell and the Legislature tried to appease senior voters the same way last year, you have a good memory.

Special Session Act 1 of 2006, signed into law by Rendell on June 27, 2006, was a ruse to buy Rendell and the Legislature more time. That worked. Rendell and most incumbents were re-elected in November 2006 and promptly shoved property tax relief on the back burner.

Voters are starting to make noise again and politicians are coming up with all sorts of plans to "attack" the problem.

It's all part of the endless cycle of broken promises from Harrisburg.

Read more about it in this editorial from The Mercury:

More delaying tactics from the Legislature on property tax relief

Another week, another plan to ease the tax burden on Pennsylvania homeowners is announced in Harrisburg. More talk. More promises. No action.

It's been more than five years since Gov. Edward G. Rendell promised to reduce property taxes standing on his head. It's been more than three years since the governor signed the slots bill into law promising it would help reduce the tax burden on Pennsylvanians. We're still a year away from seeing any of the gambling revenues go to tax relief.

Two other "Band-Aid" approaches from the Legislature, Act 72 and Act 1, were designed to shift the tax burden, but both failed to deliver the property tax relief homeowners are demanding.

Over the summer, House Democrats unveiled House Bill 1600, a plan to shift the burden from the property tax to the sales tax and income tax. Last month, Republican Sen. James Rhoades, who represents parts of Schuylkill and Berks counties, introduced his own version of tax relief, but this plan would have to be placed on the November 2008 ballot for voter approval.

If you're getting the idea that politicians are stringing taxpayers along from one election cycle to another, welcome to the club.

Still another plan to ease the tax burden on homeowners was introduced last week by Rep. John Perzel, the former Speaker of the House who spent years preventing tax-cutting measures from reaching the House floor for a vote. Perzel's plan would eliminate property taxes for Pennsylvania residents 65 and older who earn up to $40,000. That's at least 600,000 residents statewide.

Two problems come to mind with Perzel's "Older Pennsylvanian Property Tax Elimination Act." First, it appears to be illegal because the state constitution prohibits taxing residents at different rates. Second, what about the rest of us? There are many people earning under $40,000 who are younger than 65 and are also struggling to pay their bills and keep their homes.

The money to eliminate property taxes for seniors would come from the casino revenues, Perzel says. Would these be the same casino revenues that Gov. Rendell has been promising to use for tax relief since he made gambling legal in Pennsylvania in July 2004? Don't count on that money becoming available until summer of 2008 and no one is sure how much money will be in the pot. It certainly won’t be enough to eliminate property taxes entirely, even if it's just for residents who are 65 and older.

The one plan that is still waiting for a full hearing in the Legislature is the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007, formerly known as the Commonwealth Caucus plan. This proposal would eliminate school property taxes for all Pennsylvania homeowners over the next four years.

In return, the state sales tax would either increase or be expanded to cover food, clothing and services.

Despite promises by House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese and Majority Whip Keith McCall to give the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007 consideration during the current legislative session, the bill has yet to be introduced.

It's time for legislators to stop playing a shell game with property taxes. The only proposal that would eliminate school taxes entirely — not shift the tax burden — is the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007.

Introduce it, debate it, amend it if necessary. Just get on with it. Stop wasting time on half-measures.

Copyright 2007, The Mercury

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