As part of the recent adoption of the 2011-12 state budget, both members of the General Assembly and the administration felt that legislation needed to be passed to make school districts more accountable with your tax dollars.
Under Act 25 of 2011, voters must be able to vote on property tax increases above a certain state-set inflationary index specific to each school district.
Since this is an issue that affects every homeowner, I believe it was my responsibility to vote for this proposal, not only for senior citizens, but also for the working-class families holding two or three jobs to make ends meet.
The new law mandates that school districts seek voter approval for any property tax increase above the state-set index. Currently, school districts can seek exceptions to the referendum provisions in Act 1, the Taxpayer Relief Act, for a whole list of reasons. Act 25 also preserves the exceptions for special education expenses, pension costs, and grandfathered/ electoral debt, but requires school districts to meet certain financial criteria before gaining approval for these exceptions.
School districts will be empowered to increase property taxes above the rate of inflation for any purpose only if such an increase is approved by the voters in a referendum. This means that taxpayers will have a say at the ballot box on certain property tax increases requested by school districts, which will have to explain their reasoning and need for the tax increase.
Before now, there was no mechanism in the Department of Education to allow the department to turn down an exemption for which a school district applied.
This new law is a first step, but much more must be done to stem skyrocketing property tax increases and return accountability to the taxpayer. As someone who is committed to finding a solution to the property tax issue and as a member of the House Property Tax Caucus, I have signed on to several bills, one of which dedicates more gambling revenue to property tax relief.
Before this law, homeowners continued to see their property taxes rise and they don't have a voice in the matter. Now, they have that voice.