Sunday, June 10, 2007

Commentary: Let's Force Those Seniors To Downsize!

So much Ravenstahl nonsense has peppered the news as of late that I put off commenting about a Post Gazette commentary regarding the need for and value of property taxes. This is such an important without an easy answer .... I thought taking a late look at writer Mark Dixon’s point of view still seemed apropos.

While reading Mr. Dixon’s article, my mind immediately went back to a significant lesson I unwittingly learned from my high school geometry teacher, Mr. Humphrey. Yes, Mr. Humphrey was incredibly boring. And yes, most every day his monotone voice hypnotized me into a near stupor. But I did come away with a valuable message from that class, one which surprisingly had little to do with angles or shapes. After reading Mark Dixon’s PG property tax commentary, I wonder if Mr. Dixon could have missed something vital in his own geometry class.

Mr. Humphrey relentlessly drove home the importance of logical thinking. Arriving at the correct answer was not as important to him as the route you took to get there. If it took a dozen or more successive theorems and postulates to solve a problem, and if my logic was just the slightest bit off somewhere in the process, I learned that my “solution” could end up being wildly wrong, glaringly off the mark.

A corollary to the above lesson was just as important to learn albeit harder to appreciate: Sometimes two or more wrong turns did coincidentally lead me back to the right answer. But oh how I howled when Mr. Humphrey still marked my “correct” answer as “wrong” because my reasoning was flawed!

Post Gazette writer Mark Dixon would have benefited greatly from a semester of Mr. Humphrey’s stern grading practices. In his commentary, Mr. Dixon veers from the “logical” path early on and often as he tells us why property taxes are necessary and good. Following Mr. Dixon’s “logic” we find HIS doctor father was able to afford a four-bedroom colonial with “French pretensions.” That HIS parent’s Frenchly pretentious home is far too big for their current needs and their ability to care for it. And that if HIS parents sold their too-large home, they’d net enough money to either pay for a small condo with affordable property taxes and monthly fees or a stay in a decent senior’s facility.

From here Mr. Dixon somehow leaps to the conclusion that property taxes remain “the best way to fund schools”, that the “quest” to reduce property taxes is “demagogic” and “destructive”, that Pennsylvanians should stop whining, and that seniors should sell their homes and just be done with it.


Maybe some/all of Mr. Dixon’s conclusions are valid, and then again, maybe they are not. Unfortunately we will never know based upon the colorful, anecdotal family experiences he puts forth as the rationale supporting his position. Maybe he is unaware that many Pennsylvanians raised their families in small ranches which were too crowded at the time but are now just the right size with the children gone. That these same seniors have no “need” to downsize, rather just a fervent desire to be able to hold on to the home they worked hard to pay off. In essence, maybe Mr. Dixon doesn’t realize that HIS particular family’s past experiences and current situation may not be typical or the norm for the majority of Pennsylvanians and therefore may be a moot if not irrelevant point in the property tax debate.

Maybe, just maybe the “whining” Mr. Dixon hears has nothing to do with cheap, socially unconscientious seniors selfishly denying the next crop of children a good education. Earth to Mr. Dixon: Many seniors are already “downsized” as far as they can go. They are not concerned with sheltering their “wealth” so they can “enrich” their heirs. No, they simply worry that their “wealth” will last long enough to feed, clothe, shelter and yes, pay for property taxes until they die. Maybe the “whining” is actually all Pennsylvanians, not just seniors, asking school districts and local governments to exercise a little fiscal restraint when considering pork projects and patronage bloat, demanding that our children actually learn something when they go to school, expecting basic services like navigable streets, bridges and highways for the taxes they already pay. These are NOT the outlandish demands of selfish seniors bellyaching for “public subsidies”. They are just reasonable expectations from taxpayers who are tired of being duped, scammed and robbed.

Now maybe things are different in Wayne, PA, just outside of Philly where Mr. Dixon resides. Maybe roads there are more than a patch-quilt of potholes that have been strung together with disappearing asphalt. Maybe most of the kids in Wayne who finish high school can actually read and write by the time they graduate. If so, we congratulate Mr. Dixon on his good fortune and wholeheartedly join with him in calling on his folks to be socially conscious and sell their posh digs by golly!

But if life in the east half of the state is anything like it is here in the west, I have to wonder why the Post Gazette saw fit to burden the folks in our region with the “whinings” of the son of a retired physician who lives in a four-bedroom colonial with French pretensions, who can afford to sell and move into a retirement community but whose wife would prefer to remain caretaker to the “shrines” of her children’s bedrooms and won’t listen to her son and husband when they tell her it is time to sell.

Around here, the “big problems” facing the Dixon family might be referred to as “blessings”.

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