What is PA Senate Bill 1285 (SB 1285) anyway? You may want to know since it is something you will be voting on November 7th here in PA. Let's take a look at what it is, is not and see if it is just more lazy legislation in the quest to rid ourselves of property taxes.
It seems we have reached the next episode in the saga of property tax elimination in Pennsylvania. Will our fearless legislators in Harrisburg get the job done this time, drop the ball, or kick the can down the road until another election year comes along?
Enter Senate Bill 1285. I can safely say that most people have no idea what it is or what it does. I can further contend that many don't even know it exists. My understanding is the bill will be on this year's ballot as a referendum so let's start by describing what a referendum is.
The Definition of a Referendum.
Wikipedia describes a referendum the following way: A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate (YOU) is invited to vote on a particular proposal. This vote may result in the adoption of a new law. In some countries, it is synonymous with a plebiscite or a vote on a ballot question.
So a referendum is a poll.
What are You Being Polled About?
PA Senate Bill 1285 is a ballot question relating to the Pennsylvania Constitution regarding the uniformity clause. You will have the opportunity to make a yes or no vote.
Here is the official title of PA Senate Bill 1285 that will be on the ballot: "Proposed Constitutional Amendment Amending the Homestead Property Tax Assessment Exclusion.
Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to permit the General Assembly to enact legislation authorizing local taxing authorities to exclude from taxation up to 100 percent of the assessed value of each homestead property within a local taxing jurisdiction, rather than limit the exclusion to one-half of the median assessed value of all homestead property, which is the existing law?"
What Happens if the Measure Passes?
According to Ballotpedia, the measure would make changes to Resolution 1, a constitutional amendment passed in 1997. Resolution 1 was designed to allow local taxing authorities—counties, municipalities, and school districts to exempt up to 50 percent of the median value of all homesteads within their jurisdictions from taxes. The value amount exempted from taxes is known as a homestead exemption. This 2017 amendment would increase the homestead exemption amount that local taxing authorities would be allowed to offer homeowners. Rather than 50 percent of the median value of all homesteads, this amendment would allow for exemptions of 100 percent of the value of each homestead. In other words, this amendment would allow local taxing authorities to charge homestead owners zero property taxes.
This, of course, can only take place after the bill has been signed into law. The first step is the public vote which does not guarantee it will ever make it through the PA legislature.
Speaking to the Professionals.
I had the great opportunity to speak with three of Berks County and Pennsylvania property tax elimination warriors this past week. They are Senator Judy Schwank, Senator David Argall, and David Baldinger who is a grassroots activist and heads up the PA Coalition of Taxpayer Associations. All three believe we should all vote YES. They feel a yes vote sends a message to Harrisburg that anything associated with even the slightest possibility or intent to lower or eliminate property taxes is in the public favor.
The referendum vote will do little or nothing in the near term to change the way homeowners are taxed in PA. Even if the public votes yes the bill would have to go through the legislative process to become law and amend the Pennsylvania Constitution. We all know how long our government takes to legislate and agree on almost anything. Just ask Senators Schwank and Argall how things are going with the Pennsylvania budget. The last time there was real legislative action relating to PA property taxes was in 2006, (ACT-1), remember that? Likely not.
Understanding why there has to be a poll to ask Pennsylvanians if they want property tax relief is beyond me.
Does this mean our state legislators don't know we want property tax relief and have to ask again? This referendum is just another way to kick the property tax can down the road while our government attends to other pressing matters like the state budget, liquor stores, etc.
David Baldinger stated that there are plenty of special interest groups against ridding homeowners of property taxes. It is way past time that we the people again become the special interest that matters.
Senator Schwank is concerned that any new homestead tax deduction will negatively affect farmers and the forestry trade. I am worried that if all property taxes are taken away for residential real estate, it will place the full burden on our businesses, especially small business. Driving out business owners is no way to increase property values and create jobs.
Senator Argall could offer no timeline as to when or if the bill if voted for, would become law. You see we can all vote for PA Senate Bill 1285 and it still may not make it through Harrisburg. What Senators Schwank and Argall do know is that the crown jewel of property tax relief, Senate Bill 76 does not have the votes to pass.
I believe the three pros are correct and we should vote yes in favor of PA Senate Bill 1285 for precisely the reason they stated. So send a message we must if we want property tax reform sooner than later.
If Pennsylvania is truly the State of Independence we need to be free of oppressive property taxes which do the exact opposite.
Knowledge is Power!