The time is now to eliminate property tax in Pennsylvania.

That was the message spread Wednesday night by several speakers, including three area lawmakers, in the Lehighton Borough Annex auditorium.

More than 100 people turned out to hear the presentation, which featured the highlights and benefits of House Bill 76 and Senate Bill 76.

The companion bills would eliminate school property taxes by increasing the state's personal income tax from 3.07 percent to 4.34 percent, increasing the state's sales and use tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, and expanding the sales tax base to cover more goods and services.

"There is no more important issue in my district," said Sen. David Argall, R-29.

"It seems like it's been talked about forever, but we've never been this close. In fact, after I got the invitation to come here, I got a call from Gov. Wolf. He wanted to talk to me about this very issue."

Unlike Argall, however, who supports full property tax elimination, Wolf's budget proposal includes only a reduction.

His plan raises $3.8 billion, approximately 34 percent of the current statewide school property tax bill, by increasing the state's personal income tax from 3.07 percent to 3.7 percent, raising the state's sales and use tax from 6 percent to 6.6 percent, and expanding the sales tax base to cover more goods and services.

"The problem with that is it doesn't cap or eliminate property taxes," said David Baldinger, of the Pennsylvania Taxpayer Cyber Coalition. "The taxes are going to go right back up again. The governor is suggesting essentially the same thing we are, but he doesn't want to go all the way and if he doesn't, we'll fight it tooth and nail."

Two of the complaints about the Property Tax Elimination Act are that items such as clothing, books and flags shouldn't be taxed and that businesses should still have to pay a property tax.

According to Baldinger, you would have to buy $50,000 in newly taxed items each year to spend in sales tax what you would have spent in property tax.

"To the business argument, businesses don't pay taxes, people do," he said. "If you keep the property tax for businesses, they'll just pass that on to their customers."

Lehighton School Board candidate Frank Tamburri asked how the bill would come into play if the district took on debt for a new elementary center.

"Districts would be able to collect property tax to pay for the debt only," Baldinger said. "When the debt is paid off, they would no longer be able to collect property tax. So in that case you would see about a 90 percent property tax reduction until the debt is paid off."

During his remarks, David Bradley, of the Lehighton Taxpayer Group, said eliminating property taxes cuts off a school district's unlimited access to taxpayer funds and "requires they put the focus on the children."

State Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-122, said he believes House/Senate Bill 76 "can and will work."

"The challenge is that everyone here tonight backs it," Heffley said. "A lot of the legislators who opposed it got re-elected. We need the constituents in areas where the legislator doesn't support it to talk to them and make it a priority."

Heffley's colleague, state Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-124, said if the measure passes the Senate and gets over to the House, there would be a lot of pressure to support it.

"The governor kind of screwed this up, but at least he brought it up and has people talking about it," Knowles said.

Many people in the crowd cheered when Baldinger described the benefits of the bill.

As a building inspector for the past 25 years, Duane Dellecker said the passage of a property tax elimination bill would spur economic development in the state that hasn't been seen in decades.

Meanwhile, Rocky Ahner, of Lehighton, said it would make the state and school boards accountable.

"That's a good thing," he said.

Last year, Senate Bill 76 passed the Senate's finance committee and Argall hopes it goes further in 2015.

"I think we can pass it in the finance and appropriations committees and I think the support is there in the full Senate as well," he said. "If the House and the Senate pass this, I wouldn't want to be the governor who vetoes that."