Will property taxes ever be eliminated?

May 8, 2013

I love this time of year. Along with flowers, signs pop up like lilies along the roads, with names we hardly recognize, seeking our vote.

As I think about the years gone by, I can’t help wondering why some things have been on the table for so long without a resolution. One such problem was, and still is, property taxes.

This was a hot item in 1973. Our legislators were pushing a bill to reduce the rate of property taxes by increasing the rate of the earned income tax, which has always been 1 percent on wages and profits since the tax was enacted in the late 1940s. Forty years ago, when wages seemed to be growing and homes were aging with retiring owners, the best tax base was for the employed to pay more in support of local services and education. But then came the realization that real estate lasts longer than an individual’s ability to earn income due to disability, retirement, layoffs or death.

The issue of local taxation had been beaten to death until, around 2000, there was a demand for slot machines in Pennsylvania with the accompanying suggestion that the profits from gambling would reduce or eliminate property taxes. Many people worked hard to encourage our governor and legislators to look beyond their noses and give property owners of this state the relief they had been searching for since the 1970s.

Before the first dollar was made, an appointed committee set the stage on how slot revenues could be used to support schools. This committee, with paid members, found reasons to let other needs claim a portion of these revenues. Now, property owners, not business owners, find their annual school taxes reduced by such a small fraction you can hardly recognize the savings.

Taxpayers in Washington County are going to face a reassessment one of these years. As was the case in 1973, real estate is much more stable than taxpayer income. While we have to appreciate all those who play the slots, one has to be honest – we didn’t get all the revenue we thought we would get. So much money is filtering through Harrisburg, and the taxpayers continue to dream. From blinking lights to Marcellus Shale “pipe dreams,” will property taxes ever be eliminated?

Joann Diesel



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