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02 February 2008

UPDATE: The week in review and the zoo in Harrisburg

Dear Friends,

This week has been an absolute zoo in the state House of Representatives – and that analogy is insulting to the zoo animals!

Because the bill supported by the PTCC and PCTA, HB 1275, the School Property Tax Elimination Act (SPTEA), was not allowed out of the House Appropriations Committee for a fair hearing by the majority leadership, its language was attached as an amendment to HB 1600 to ensure it would be debated.

Unfortunately, the amendment was defeated on Tuesday (1/29) mostly because the legislators bent to the will of the special interests and marched in lockstep with their caucus leaders.

If you want to see how your representative voted on the HB 1275 amendment, the complete voting list is here.

The Democratic Leadership was closely involved in the crafting of 1275 and had been negotiating with the prime sponsor, Rep. Rohrer, since last January. The negotiations were done in good faith and total transparency by Rep. Rohrer; many compromises were made for the Democrats, including the elimination of the 3% sales tax on food and clothing and retaining 50% of the property tax on businesses, both large and small. (The original bill called for 100% reduction for all entities so a constitutional amendment to the uniformity clause could be avoided.)

In the end, the Democratic Leadership refused to endorse the bill, mainly because Rep. Rohrer refused to retain ALL property taxes on business. Doing this would have delayed enactment by at least two years because a constitutional amendment would have been required under those circumstances.

In a PTCC poll conducted in early January, 92% of the respondents answered "No" to the question "If school property taxes on your home are COMPLETELY ELIMINATED, do you object to the reduction of school property taxes for business by 50%?" This information was sent to the Democratic Leadership but was ignored.

The Democratic-sponsored and highly-promoted House Bills 1600 and 1489 were both tax shifts for minor relief that were opposed by our statewide coalition (PCTA) because they would have been tax INCREASES for many Pennsylvanians. In the end, these were the only measures that the Democratic leadership would support, reportedly at the urging of the governor.

Some of the excuses from those who opposed HB 1275 (and my response):

If property taxes are eliminated there will be a mass migration to Pennsylvania and our infrastructure will be overwhelmed. (Nonsense. There is NO evidence of any kind that this will occur.)

We shouldn’t have to pay tax on attorney’s fees. (The PA Bar Association lobbied hard against HB 1275. Draw your own conclusions.)

The four year phase-in of HB 1275 will take too long. (The four year phase-in was necessary because you can’t just replace $8 billion in property taxes at the drop of a hat. There would have been no money available to do this.)

NO reduction of property taxes for business, even at 50%. Wal-Mart! Exxon! Casinos! (See the sixth paragraph, above. Even though 80% of Pennsylvania businesses are small business, all the opponents could scream about was the large businesses receiving a 50% reduction. The reduction of business property taxes was a major theme and a sleazy emotional ploy for the democrats, even though analysis said that such a reduction would generate approximately 100,000 new jobs in Pennsylvania each year.)

The people of Pennsylvania will start a revolution because of the new taxes! (Ridiculous. Let’s see… If my school property taxes are totally eliminated I’m going to have to pay $300-$500 or less in other taxes. What’s infuriating about that?)

It taxes funerals! (And your point is? If the average funeral costs $10,000 there would be an additional $600 tax. But until the day you die you’d pay NO school property tax. I’ll take that trade, too. This was more baseless emotional pandering.)

In short, the opponents’ arguments were nothing but lame excuses for not having the courage to oppose the special interests and their caucus leaders to do what is right for Pennsylvania homeowners. They have betrayed their constituents and sold them out for their own self-interest. These lawmakers do not deserve our support and should have their jobs eliminated in this year’s elections so we can find representatives who will truly represent their constituents.

All PTCC supporters are strongly encouraged to show their disapproval of this week’s events with a call, e-mail, or letter to their representative if they voted against HB 1275 (and a “thank you” to those who supported the bill is a good idea, too). Let them know that their job is HISTORY at the end of this year because they ignored your request for property tax elimination, and ask as many people as you can to do the same! Contact information for your representative is here.

You’re going to hear a lot of whining and a lot of excuses from these Representatives but in the end there was NO legitimate reason for killing HB 1275. Their only reasons for voting against this bill were cowardice, pandering to the special interests, and groveling to their party leadership – none of which has anything to do with truly serving their constituents.

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Now for round two – adding insult to injury.

One of the bills that the PTCC and PCTA oppose, HB 1600, is DEAD. A gut-and-replace amendment by Rep. John Perzel (R-Philadelphia) that would take ALL gambling proceeds and give them to senior citizens earning less than $40,000 passed Tuesday night (1/29). It totally replaced the original language in HB 1600, effectively killing the bill.

If this bill gets through final passage in the House and is passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, and since this bill uses ALL of the available gambling proceeds, any property tax “relief” from gaming money that you’ve been expecting for two years will be eliminated if you do not meet the guidelines above. This is good news for low-income seniors who are having problems just staying in their homes and we think that this goes a long way towards helping the most vulnerable group in our society. However, the flip side is that the House has reneged on its promise of property tax relief for ALL homeowners that it made to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania two years ago with Act 1. This is ironic since they could have given elimination to ALL homeowners through HB 1275 but refused to do so.

This amendment was obviously pandering to the senior vote during an election year, but what really irritates me about the Perzel amendment is that it is more of the same "divide and conquer" strategy. I'm sure that these lawmakers feel that with the passage of this bill the seniors (the biggest voting bloc) will be satisfied and they won't have to deal with the issue any more. If this is true, we’ll just have to prove to them that this strategy won’t work.

And here’s the final insult: Reporter Kori Walter is reporting in today’s (2/2) Bucks County Courier Times that Rep. David Levdansky has pulled HB 1600 from consideration. Even though his original language for 1600 was eliminated and replaced by the Perzel amendment, as prime sponsor Rep. Levdansky still “owns” the bill and can make this maneuver. These lawmakers continue to play their political games at the expense of the taxpayers that they serve and this MUST END!

Apparently the housecleaning in the 2006 elections over the midnight pay raise wasn’t sufficient to convince the lawmakers that we are tired of their nonsense. We can, and must, teach them the same lesson this year. For me the property tax issue is the litmus test that will determine my vote in 2008 and many of the lawmakers failed. They MUST be shown the door in 2008!

By the way, if you want to see how much “relief” you will receive from the gambling revenue in your school district this year, click here and look under the $400 million column. Be sure to take your blood pressure medicine first!

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So here’s the status right now:

After the Perzel debacle on Tuesday night the House immediately adjourned without further property tax discussion. The lawmakers returned to session for an hour on Wednesday morning and then announced a recess until 1:30. They never returned in the afternoon and canceled Thursday’s scheduled session. Right now it is uncertain if property taxes will be discussed when the House meets again on Monday (2/4).

It is obvious that the majority Democratic House Leadership is in total confusion from having HB 1600 defeated and the Perzel amendment approved. This turn of events has thwarted their plans for their bogus property tax “relief” and they obviously need time to regroup.

HB 1600 is dead, the second fake tax swap plan, HB 1489, is on life support, and the Democratic Caucus has no fallback position. They promised property tax relief during the 2006 election, have been unable to deliver, and now are facing the voters again in 2008. They are in a VERY precarious position.

If they would choose to help themselves, HB 1275, the School Property Tax Elimination Act, is still in the Appropriations Committee and could be brought out for a vote if they would be willing to make a deal with 1275’s sponsors. I have no idea whatsoever if the Democratic Leadership would be willing to do this but it certainly could solve their problem.

This debate still has a long way to go and many more votes will have to be taken, so we’ll just have to wait to see how and when all of this plays out.

In the end, the taxpayers have again paid the price for the ridiculous political gamesmanship of this dysfunctional legislature. It is time that these politicians stop the “business as usual” and tend to the people they represent.

Just please remember that we are far from finished! There are many avenues still available to us to achieve our goal of total school property tax elimination and we WILL continue the fight. I hope that you will likewise continue your support.

This message has also been posted on the PTCC blog site here. Please visit and post your comments and please feel free to write to me with any questions or concerns.

Thanks to all of you for your continuing support.

David Baldinger
PTCC Administrator