marco polo and kublai khan ‘Wolf in sheep’s clothing’ or school property tax relief
“It sounds very enticing,” Hunt said, but “when you look under the cover, it costs Adams County residents more money that doesn’t come back to Adams County.
“We believe, in total, that taxpayers will pay more. We do not know what the dollar amounts will be,” Bermudian Springs School District Business Manager Justin Peart said Thursday in an interview.
Citing long delays in passage of past state budgets, Peart asked, “If they did not pass the budget for a year, do we get funding or must our schools close?”
Also expressing concern this week were school board members and administrators from the Upper Adams and Conewago Valley districts.
Various local officials argued the bill would: shift more of the tax burden onto low income individuals and away from businesses; remove local control of school finances; leave districts with insufficient operating funds; move funds to urban districts; redirect casino revenue now used to offset property taxes; and increase residents’ federal income taxes by eliminating property tax deductions.
The proposed Property Tax Independence Act would reportedly replace property tax revenue by increasing the state personal income tax rate from 3.07 percent to 4.75 percent, hiking the state sales tax rate from 6 percent to 7 percent, and applying the sales tax to many items that are currently exempt.
The proposal would also permit school districts to keep collecting property taxes to pay off existing debt.
Hope for seniors
Alloway offered a perspective much different from that expressed by school officials.
“The seniors who’ve lived in their home and continue to pay taxes their whole life, they’re on a fixed income and their tax bill keeps going up and up and up and it’s eating up their income,” Alloway said Tuesday.
“It’s not their fault and it’s not the schools’ fault either. It’s just the way the system is. I think we need to look at the whole system and come up with something that’s a little fairer,” he said.
Also taking a different tack was Gettysburg Area School Board member Bill Hewitt.
“If done correctly to our benefit, we should be for it,” Hewitt said during Tuesday’s board meeting, adding that he was in contact with State Rep. Dan Moul, R 91, who has a goal of getting the same amount of money evenly distributed to every student in the state.
Hunt replied “that would never happen,” since the state distributes the money per student based on the economics of each area, which are all “different.”
Fast action expected
Legislators are expected to go into session Monday in Harrisburg.
Alloway said he expects to see some movement on the bill and urged constituents to join him in learning more about it.
“Sen. David Argall (R Schuylkill) will be introducing a bill similar to Senate Bill 76 of the previous session, and is pushing for the Senate to consider it immediately. It has been suggested there is enough support to pass the bill and send it to the House for a vote,” according to an email the Pennsylvania School Boards Association sent to members.
The current bill has not yet been assigned a number and would eliminate the school property tax as of July this year, the email said.
“We are hearing that, once introduced, this bill will move quickly, since they want to take care of it before they start budget discussion for 2017 2018,” Peart said.
‘We get the shaft’
The bill is “really a tax shift” with “many tentacles,” Upper Adams Business Manager Belinda Wallen told her board Tuesday.
“Anytime they shift taxes, we get the shaft,” board member Ron Ebbert said.
The portion of district funding provided by the state has fallen from some 53 percent in the 1990s to approximately 33 percent now, Ebbert said.
“It’s obvious they (the state) aren’t going to fund the schools” to match current total revenues if the property tax is changed, board member Bill Seibert said.
“The money never reaches,” Ebbert said, referring to past efforts to eliminate the property tax. In those proposals, he said, funding from other sources was never enough to replace property tax revenues. He said the same is likely the case this time.
Similar property tax changes in the 1970s took public schools in California from “the standard for the nation” to “in the toilet,” board member Tom Wilson said.
“We will have a cash flow problem” if the bill passes, Wallen said, because local tax revenues “carry us” between releases of funds by the state.