In several editorials over the course of the last few weeks the Herald Standard has repeatedly criticized me for voicing my initial opposition to Gov. Wolf’s massive $34 billion budget, paid for by a $4 billion tax increase.
The Herald-Standard has incorrectly stated that the governor’s property tax proposal was nearly identical to Senate Bill 76, a bill to completely replace school property taxes with an increase in the income and sales tax and removing certain exemptions from the sales tax. Last year, when meeting with the editorial board, I expressed my support for Senate Bill 76 and followed through on that support by signing up as a co-sponsor to this important piece of legislation. I cannot in good conscience support Gov. Wolf’s proposal.
At first blush, one may think that the governor’s proposal and SB 76 are the same. They are most definitely not. The big difference that the editorials brush aside? Under SB 76 school property taxes are eliminated. Under SB 76 never again will school property taxes drive someone from their home, which I heard too often going door to door last year.
Under SB 76, a prospective homebuyer won’t be dissuaded from moving into our community because of crippling property taxes that often times are higher than the mortgage. Under SB 76, property taxes will not keep rising, making you merely a renter from the government in the home you own.
Under Gov. Wolf’s proposal, the property tax remains and will continue to rise in the future erasing any short term property tax relief that has been promised. The end result? Eventually, you will pay a higher income tax, a higher sales tax on more items and still be under the heavy thumb of property taxes.
What does this mean for Fayette County?
According to analysis done by the House Appropriations committee, it means Fayette County residents will pay nearly $2.7 million in higher taxes while Philadelphia receives a $32 million tax break. You can see your school districts overall tax burden at www.taxpayersthatpay.com.
I applaud Gov. Wolf for rightly pointing out that property taxes are a problem; I just don’t believe his solution is the right approach. If we go along with his plan, we will forever lose the ability to end the school property tax once and for all. If we are to finally change the way we fund our schools, we must protect residents from future tax increases.
Everyone remembers the grand promises made when gambling was instituted in Pennsylvania. Property tax relief was used to sell casinos to the public. Ten years later, people are always asking me where the property tax relief went. The fact of the matter is, property tax relief did happen. It was just far eclipsed by property tax increases that were imposed by local school boards to deal with the growing pension crisis among other priorities.
The only way to stop this from happening again is through a dollar for dollar decrease in the property tax. Any proposal that leaves the property tax on the table should be looked at for what it is: A good intentioned, but ultimately, temporary tax relief proposal.
As always, if you have thoughts on property taxes, the budget or any other state issue please contact me through www.senatorstefano.com.
State Sen. Pat Stefano represents the 32nd Senatorial District which includes all of Fayette and Somerset Counties and part of Westmoreland County.