There isn’t much agreement between Republicans and Democrats in our area, but there is one thing they are almost universally united on: Just like their constituents, they love to hate the school property tax, which districts are putting into place. place as part of the official adoption of the budget for the upcoming school year by June 30.
By state law, the tax rate must be set no later than that date. Most districts did not increase rates last year in deference to the economic and emotional hardships suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, however, with much of the country emerging from lockdowns and restrictions that have been imposed to curb the spread of the virus, most districts have presented at least interim budgets that call for tax increases as well as a return to classroom learning.
They point to the rising costs associated with COVID-19 and declining income tax revenues because many have been unemployed or have not returned to the workforce due to other factors.
Lehighton, for example, is seeking to raise taxes by 4.2%, the highest allowed by the state without voter intervention. If the increase were to hold until final adoption, it would follow a 3.6% tax increase last year and an increase of almost 2% the year before. A homeowner whose property is valued at $ 80,000 would see a $ 170 increase in their property taxes for the 2021-2022 school year.
Palmerton plans to raise taxes by $ 1 million, which is about $ 48 more for the average taxpayer.
Panther Valley, considered the most needy district in our region, has passed an interim budget that relies on $ 6 million in stimulus funds to balance the budget and eliminate the need for a tax hike. Otherwise, the district was planning a 3% increase for next year. I’m sure the residents of the district are wondering what will happen next year when there is no stimulus money to plug the hole in the dike.
There is no doubt that among the three tax entities – municipality, county and school – school taxes are by far the highest, in almost all cases eclipsing the other two combined by many multiples.
After hearing this growing chorus of complaints from their constituents, especially older homeowners who no longer have kids in school, politicians tried to reach consensus and do something about this tax. expensive.
Almost everyone who has taken this path has discovered that this road to cancel this hellish tax is paved with good intentions but, so far, no real solutions, and the devil always seems to be in the details.
State Sens. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, and Mario Scavello, R-Northampton and Monroe, are two of the main supporters of eliminating or changing the school tax, but so far none have been able to rally a coalition of their colleagues to pull the trigger.
Of course, everyone wants this tax to go away, but there is no consensus on what to replace it. A commission led by Argall has put forward five proposals to replace the property tax, including a sharp increase in state income tax. Another proposal would be to assess a state tax on federal social security benefits. None of these are particularly popular either.
In 2020, there was an encouraging signal that things could come out of a standstill when then Senate Speaker Joseph Scarnati said he would call for a vote on the issue. When legislative leaders speak, MPs listen, but the pandemic has struck and the legislative focus has shifted elsewhere. On top of that, Scarnati retired on November 30, and his successor has not shown the same tendency to support swift action to address this issue.
Scavello introduced a law that would offer a property tax refund of up to $ 5,000 for anyone aged 65 and over who has an annual family income of $ 60,000 or less. Only half of a person’s social security benefits would count towards the income limit. Scavello’s bill would require a half-percent increase in the state’s 6 percent sales and use tax, but would not expand the list of taxable items, including clothing.
Scavello described heartbreaking stories of voters who were taxed out of their homes, of seniors who saw their school property tax bills rise dramatically during retirement, and of widows and widowers who were forced to sell many. of their property. The most serious, he said, are the cases of people committing suicide for losing their homes to unpaid taxes.
“If even a senior or a family loses their home to school taxes, it is one too many,” said Scavello. “Our war cry remains: ‘No tax should have the power to leave you homeless!’ Politics is rarely an all-or-nothing game, and when it comes to school property taxes, I’d rather have a bite of an apple than no apple at all, ”Scavello added.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how Argall, Scavello, or any of our other lawmakers feel individually. Passing a proposal requires the support of 102 representatives, 26 senators and a governor willing to sign the bill, or failing that, a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly to override the governor’s veto.
By Bruce Frassinelli | [email protected]
The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.