Monday, August 20, 2007

Again: Property Tax Reform

A Most Aggravating Oxymoron

State Rep. David Levdansky of Forward will hold House Finance Committee meetings today on ways to lower property taxes. This will be the state’s 4-billionth attempt at reforming one of our most pressing problems. Or maybe it’s the 5-billionth attempt ….the PG has lost count.

Rep. Levdansky warns us there is no free lunch. If property taxes are lowered or eliminated, other taxes will have to be increased.

With all due respect to Levdansky and others …. We get it. We know this. We completely understand the dynamics of “left pocket – right pocket” which is why most of us are more concerned about the “reform” part of the equation than which pocket will take the greater hit.

No matter where you live, school taxes are by far the greatest portion of everyone’s property tax bill. Our per-student spending is among the highest in the nation and our children’s test scores are down at the bottom. Additionally, if the majority of a school’s finances come only from homes in its immediate area, a struggling community will continue to spawn struggling schools. The kids who go to these struggling schools are more likely to receive a less-than-adequate education further cementing their fate as struggling adults in their struggling communities which will continue to spiral downward in all respects except one: Property taxes will continue to rise.

We need property tax reform. Reducing property taxes without addressing core problems is not “reform”, it is just “nonsense” according to Bob Logue who heads STOP (Stop Taxing Our Properties). According to the Post Gazette:

Bob Logue, a former KDKA radio talk show host who heads the STOP plan, said the Levdansky plan doesn't go nearly far enough. Mr. Logue favors totally abolishing property taxes. He fears that while the Levdansky plan would lower property taxes by a few hundred dollars for a year or two, there is nothing to stop school boards from simply raising the school district tax rates and wiping out the savings.

He noted that in May, voters around the state soundly rejected Act 1, which would have increased earned income taxes and lowered property taxes. Mr. Logue said that Act 1 and the Levdansky plan would only mean "a temporary reduction of property taxes and a permanent increase in replacement taxes," which is "nonsense."

“Reform” means putting an end to all the “automatic”, back-door tax increases levied by local school boards. It means greater scrutiny of how school districts spend their money. (Reading, Writing & Arithmetic first; administrator/teacher salaries and perks second) It also means a sane, fair and broad-based source of tax dollars so that each school, no matter where it is located, gets the money it needs for the bare essentials of student safety and a decent education.

In theory, PUBLIC education in Fox Chapel should be no different than PUBLIC education in Wilkinsburg or any of the other 43 (!) school districts in Allegheny County alone. Isn’t that what PUBLIC implies? Especially in a Commonwealth, set up for the “common good”?

1 comment:

EdHeath said...

We not only need property tax reform, we need to have a legal means of assessing property in order to tax it. As I recall, Allegheny County is in limbo right now because of Judge Wettick. Dan Onorato would probably prefer not to have to address the issue until after November, and if possible, not at all. He would prefer the Commonwealth legislature to take the heat.

Are property taxes relatively progressive? Relatively? Maybe not so much as long as there are different school districts. The tax rate can be quite lower in Fox Chapel to get the same amount of money as Wilkinsburg, because of the different values of housing in the two districts. Or, to put it a different way, one of the perqs of living in Fox Chapel is that the schools are likely to be much better than in Wilkinsburg.

I am all for having one Allegheny County school district, and a carbon/commuting tax for those people who choose to move to Cranberry/Mars to get away from the People�s Democratic Republic of Allegheny, but still want to work in the city. Maybe that�s one of the things Nordenberg will recommend, along with a strategic alliance with the Riders of Rohan to address the gathering threat from Mordor.

You don�t mention the PG article is talking about raising the sales and income taxes. First, what happened to all that gambling revenue, and second, we damn well ought to have an assessment system before we start raising other taxes, because you know they won�t come down soon. We certainly shouldn't lower taxes we don't know how to assess for. And we should move from the more progressive to the less progressive taxes, that�s a good plan.