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Property tax relief options pending

Published October 12. 2013 09:00AM

The week of Sept. 30, was a busy one in Harrisburg, with many discussions about the proper way to reform Pennsylvania's unfair school property tax system.

I don't need to tell people in our region about how severe this problem has become, as many of my constituents are living proof.Seniors are being forced to choose between paying their expensive school property taxes and paying for food or medicine.

Some are even losing their homes.

It is unjust that our valued senior citizens are being put in this situation.

Property tax issues are complicated across Pennsylvania. Major concerns in Carbon County might not carry the same weight in places such as western Pennsylvania, and that is why there is no clear answer to reform property taxes.

However, this is an issue that we are taking very seriously in Harrisburg. A widely publicized plan, House Bill 76, aims to eliminate school property taxes. Among the funding methods used to replace the taxes in the plan is a 1 percentage point increase in the sales tax across Pennsylvania. Consumers in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia would pay a 2 percentage point increase, a total of 8 percent. In many ways, House Bill 76 amounts to a tax shift, from school property taxes to other forms of taxation.

House Bill 76 came to the floor last Tuesday in the form of an amendment. Even the bill's staunchest supporters admitted that there were problems with the legislation. Many voted for it, however, including me. I feel that issues I had with the legislation could have been addressed through further discussions and debate.

The next day, the House voted on House Bill 1189, introduced by Rep. Seth Grove (R-York). The goal of this bill is to put the power in the hands of individual school districts by using an elimination tax. It would consist of an Earned Income Tax, Business Privilege Tax and Mercantile Tax, or any combination of those to eliminate or reduce property tax. It allows local districts to find the tax package that best fits the needs of their residents and schools. I voted for House Bill 1189, which advanced to the Senate for consideration.

There are a few things to keep in mind on House Bill 1189. First, school districts will not have the power to enact large tax increases after eliminating their property tax system. As is the case now, schools will not be allowed to raise taxes beyond the rate of inflation. If they do so, a voter referendum will be held on the proposed tax increase. Second, this is part of a package of bills that includes House Bill 125, introduced by Rep. David Maloney (R-Berks). This bill would amend the state Constitution to exempt homesteads from property tax collection.&n bsp; Furthermore, House Bill 1677, which I introduced, would ensure that the term "homestead" is in line with the language in the Constitution. Homestead refers to the home you own and live in. The exemption would not apply to rental properties and land. The House has not yet taken final action on these bills but we are scheduled to cast a final vote on them the week of Oct. 15.

Still, I return to House Bill 76 as the best attempt to reform this outdated and unfair system. I know that the language found in the amendment could not gain passage last week, but with that said, I remain committed to it. A version of this bill remains in the Senate and I look forward to the possibility that the House will eventually have the chance to take a good, hard look at it.

One thing is certain; we can't sit by and ignore this problem, not while seniors and other homeowners across our state continue to struggle. We will continue to work on this major issue to come to a resolution that helps people in our region and across the entire Commonwealth.

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