State Senators Dave Argall (R-29) and John Yudichak (D-14), and Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-122) stood together inside the Kibler School, a one-room schoolhouse museum near Beltzville State Park, on Monday morning to introduce bipartisan legislation to help Pennsylvania voters eliminate the state's outdated and archaic property tax system.
Argall spoke first and said, "We have to find a better way a more fair way to fund our schools."
Argall said that throughout the years, taxes were enacted that failed to provide relief for homeowners. He mentioned the state sales tax and state lottery, which have helped the least able to pay and seniors, but they do not provide enough help and did not stop the property tax.
"We need to come up with a better way," said Argall. "Our past attempts have failed. We are sending this message to the ballot for the voters. We hope they unite and send a message to our governor and senators to follow."
Argall said he has listened to his constituents at many town hall meetings describe the unfairness of the old-fashioned school property tax system.
"Since 1834, we have been funding our school districts primarily with the property tax; it's time for a change," said Argall. "Perhaps the property tax system was the best idea the state could come up with in the 1800s, but I know that we can do better than that today. The property tax system is complex, but there is a simple solution let the voters decide."
The legislation they introduced will allow voters to bring about a true property tax reform with the simple touch of a voting screen in November.
Argall said that property taxes are an unfair way to fund public schools.
"Property taxes are not based on common sense, but on hundreds of different, competing decisions by judges, whose names most of us could not identify," he said. "We must drive a stake through the heart of the property tax beast once and for all. We cannot allow this long stalemate over district property taxes any longer."
Heffley said that holding the news conference in the old schoolhouse was the perfect place to roll out the plan.
"Schools are state of the art and offer modern education, but the way schools are funded hasn't changed," said Heffley. "That is why House Bill 1365 is so important. People on fixed incomes are having a difficult time paying their property taxes. It's important that we make sure that there is a sound source of funding for schools."
Heffley said that his two children attend public school and he wants all children to have a quality education, but that there is a need to shift away from having people pay property taxes, which is an antiquated system.
"We need to examine how to shift away from property taxes and still have local control over the funding," said Heffley.
Yudichak said that as a Democrat, he joined in with the Republican representatives because the issue is not a Democratic or Republican issue, but one of math.
"Property taxes are not fixed and they can go up," said Yudichak. "I share your frustration. I think its time to empower the people to add their voice to get meaningful property tax relief. Something needs to be done."
Yudichak said that initiating a sales tax has gotten a lot of attention.
"We also need to look at the way certain items are taxed or not taxed," said Yudichak. "That system should be modernized. For example, cigarettes are taxable but smokeless tobacco is not. There are a lot of reasons that the sales tax should be looked at, but it will take a lot of 6 percent taxes to generate a $3,500 real estate tax bill."
A few members of the Kibler Schoolhouse committee attended the news conference, including Tom Newman, who is also a Towamensing Township supervisor. Newman asked whether the law would contain a provision that the school boards must help by staying within their budget and not raising taxes.
Pat Centofanti of Penn Forest said that he wouldn't have such a problem with funding schools if the schools were doing a better job teaching children.
Senate Bill 990 is sponsored by Argall and co-sponsored by Yudichak and House Bill 1365, sponsored by Heffley, would place the four most popular tax reform initiatives on the ballot in November, determined by the number of co-sponsorships each bill receives.
The location of the news conference, the Kibler School, was built in 1898 at the cost of $460, which was one of nine one room schools in Towamensing Township. Grades one through eight attended the school. The school was in service until 1955 and was reopened as a museum in 2000.
The school is located at 6495 Pohopoco Drive, Lehighton, and is open to the public from 1 to 3 p.m. every Sunday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Visitors are welcome to tour the school free of charge. For additional information about the school see the website at www.kiblerschool.org.