The question has arisen as to why PAPRA (Pennsylvania Property Rights Association) was formed. Specifically, the question was raised asking the question that since there is a bill and a group supporting it that seeks to eliminate school property taxation, why start another group.
HB/SB 76 is a bill that we support but HB/SB 76 only addresses the school property tax. The PTCC/PCTA organization that was formed as a result of this legislation is singularly focused on that legislation and we’re grateful for the foundational work they’ve done in support of that legislation. That singular focus is a good thing. However, HB/SB 76, if passed, only eliminates the school property taxes leaving our County and Municipal property taxes in place.
While neither carries the egregious burden that the school property tax carries, it is the misguided principles of the property tax itself, not just the total cost of the property tax, that is a problem. The problem is greater than the limited dialogue of the School Property Tax.
We need to be able to have representation in those discussions as well. We think that is also a good thing. It should not be a matter of one or the other. We think it can include both. Some disagree and, this being America, that’s fine. One of the foundational aspects about our rights to property is the right to disagree. As Ayn Rand eloquently stated “The right to agree with others is not a problem in any society; it is the right to disagree that is crucial. It is the institution of private property that protects and implements the right to disagree—and thus keeps the road open to man’s most valuable attribute (valuable personally, socially, and objectively): the creative mind.”
Here, it's not a matter of disagreement on HB/SB 76...we agree. The matter in question is with regards to our belief that we need to expand the limited vision singularly focused on school property tax elimination into other areas and topics or, more specifically, the right of other voices to exist independent from one centralized source. Here, we are taking the right to agree with others and turning it into a problem that shouldn't even exist!
County and Municipal property taxes require different bills and will require a Constitutional Amendment in order to be eliminated. We will have to look at very different funding mechanisms to replace the revenue currently generated by the property tax for County and Municipal governments and those alternatives must be responsible means so as not to leave our County and Municipal government without the financial resources they need to provide for the necessary services to our communities.
Rather than wait for HB/SB 76 to pass to start this discussion, we feel that we should already be engaged in the planning and development of the necessary steps that it will take to seek elimination of County and Municipal taxes.
By not doing so, supporters of HB/SB 76 are sometimes criticized, as I have been personally accused, of having some form of personal vendetta against public education which couldn’t be further from the truth.
If we do not change the course we are on, the property tax for our schools will eventually collapse under its own weight. By shifting to a PIT/SUT blending of taxation (as HB/SB 76 does) we can better maintain a future for our schools and teachers while also advancing the protection of the rights of property for individuals. That, in my humble opinion, is a good thing.
However, there has been opposition from the PSEA, PSBA and other institutionalized organizations within the education complex and that has led to criticism of individual administrators, school boards and teachers, all of which which is unfair. We do have support from individuals within those entities and the broader based attacks become counter-productive in advancing these principles.
I had a long conversation with a local school administrator where the issue came up and, having had the opportunity to explain, in greater detail, our intents and purposes as well as discussing the overall impact of the property tax, this administrator had a much better grasp of what we are trying to accomplish. As I explained our intent of also seeking to eliminate the County and Municipal property taxes based on the flaws of property taxation, that individual was able to see that this is part of a much larger process, not just something that was targeting schools.
I’ve had similar discussions with our County Commissioners and two of the three also better understand what we (PAPRA) are attempting to do. We should be open to both the short-term and the long-term strategies necessary to restore property rights so yes, the singular focus of school property tax elimination is necessary but so are the long-term planning and advancement of the issue. It’s just a simple question of “Why can’t we do both?”.
Recently, Representative Frank Ryan introduced two bills that are both critical bills in protecting our individual rights to property. The first is HB 2204 that would prevent the sale of property during a tax auction of a home unless it reaches 80% of the value of a home. Currently homes are seized for tax sales and sold for pennies on the dollar. The home-owner can lose all personal investment in their own property in an auction where the only real concern is protecting the tax collector.
A person's home could be paid for and, due to circumstances outside the individual’s control find themselves unable to keep up with the over-inflationary growth of the property tax. There are no protections to the property owner when their home is seized. The homeowner may not have sufficient time to place their home up for sale during a tax seizure of property and, as a result, could see their homes sold just to meet the tax obligation.
This bill would protect the property owner’s investment in their property. Remember, just because we eliminate the school property tax does not mean we will eliminate the seizing and selling of homes for pennies on the dollar. While it may not be as frequent without the school property tax, it is still a possibility. HB2204 places us more in compliance to the Pennsylvania Constitution according to Article 1, Section 10. PAPRA supports this legislation and believes that we should also have the public support for it.
The Second Bill, HB2064 would create more transparency in debt related local agencies. Under current law, a person purchasing property does so without knowing the full amount of debt they could incur through property taxation. That debt would provide foreknowledge of possible future tax increases related to pensions and other post-employment benefits
Most people are unaware that School District pensions are not currently legally guaranteed by the state and could become the full responsibility of the property owners in a school district. Home owners should have this information fully disclosed to them at the time of purchase. PAPRA also supports this legislation and believes the public should be more aware of it.
PAPRA has assembled a team of volunteer consultants who are willing to volunteer their time and resources into exploring every aspect of property taxation, not limited solely to school property taxes. Our research team does not create numbers to back up our positions but extensively uses outside, unrelated studies and analysis to reach our conclusions and we do so from a variety of sources. We don’t function through paying data firms to reach a predetermined conclusion in support of our positions.
As we have already pointed out in our blogs, the assessment nightmare associated with property taxation is a serious problem with property taxation in general. Eliminating the school property tax will not eliminate the need for property assessments. Until all property taxes are eliminated, the assessment nightmare will continue. HB/SB 76 only eliminates the need for KOZs, LERTAs and other government programs with regards to school property taxation, it will not eliminate the potential for KOZs and other programs related to County and Municipal taxation. Those programs will still become pass through taxation systems that continues to shift that burden to other property owners with regards to property taxes. While HB/SB 76 goes a long way in easing that burden it does not eliminate the need for them entirely.
We understand and fully accept that HB/SB 76 should not be trying to fix all the problems related to property taxation within the framework of one bill. We also understand that, while supporting HB/SB 76, our conversation should allow us to go forward into all these other areas related to property taxes and begin looking for responsible solutions that includes discussing this issue across the wide political spectrum to provide for those solutions. That is why we organized. We accept the limitations of the debate within the PTCC to HB/SB 76 specifically but we also feel there should be voices out there taking this conversation into other areas.
PAPRA was not established to be a competing organization to school property tax elimination or the PTCC. Although we have been accused as such by some, its simply not true. We’re all working for school property tax elimination and misinterpreting us as an enemy is simply counter-productive. As other groups worked to establish themselves in this fight that same criticism has been launched against them and that’s simply unfair.
The internal divisions are unnecessary and if we are to see elimination of ALL property taxes it is going to require allowing the various individuals to use their talents and abilities to the best of those potentials.
Rather than criticize, we applaud those efforts and are grateful for the work they are doing.
By saying this, I do not mean to imply the question by the individual was raised as a criticism, simply that such criticism does exist. This criticism hurts, not advances, the work in the cause of protecting all property rights. Perhaps that’s the result of the great political divide we see everywhere we look. I will admit to being frustrated by the desire of some to silence the voice of PAPRA as there was once the push to silence the voice of an independent group called Eyes on Pennsylvania and the more recently formed group PA Liberty Alliance. Working behind the scenes to undermine the tremendous contributions both have made to this cause are very confusing to me. The more voices in the work, the better, as least in my opinion. I fail to understand why they, or us, for that matter, can remain independent while still working together on the issues we support. I refuse, however, to turn that frustration into an effort to work behind the scenes to undermine the work of others. I’m more interested in seeing these issues get across the finish line than I am with who, in the end, gets the credit. We’re here today because of the work of many and the work of all of them should be recognized. Not just PAPRA....all of them. I’ll go so far as to state that PAPRA would not exist without that previous work by everyone involved. Our Consultants have been gathered from other such groups and I’m grateful for the work they do within our organization as well as the work they do independently outside the PAPRA organization. They been assembled for their work in supporting HB/SB 76 as well as their work in drawing attention to property rights issues that are larger than the limits of that one bill.
There is currently a National Organization that is working to advance issues of property rights (The American Policy Center). We are not associated to them, but we do not see them as a competing organization. They approach the issue from some similar points but also come at this debate from different areas. We are grateful for their work and together we can, hopefully, better achieve the same ends through substantive, responsible and reasonable debate. At the same time, I chair a local grassroots advocacy group that advances the principles of property rights through a board of directors within that group that allows that group to deal with other topics. While property rights related to real estate is important to them, we go outside that specific realm. There is no reason I can not function within that group while still creating and promoting PAPRA as a separate and independent group while can working together with our local county-wide group as a complimentary, not competitive organization.
It is certainly a shame when we turn this into a “my way or the highway” debate and criticize the voices of others fighting for the same end. We believe that we can, and we should, have other voices who can work together where we agree while remaining independent enough to expand this issue into other areas. After all, this is about property rights and how can we claim to support property rights when we seek to silence the voice of others who are independently working to the same end. As James Madision wrote in National Gazette in 1792 with regards to property:
"This term in its particular application means “that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual. In its larger and juster meaning, it embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage. In the former sense, a man’s land, or merchandize, or money is called his property. In the latter sense, a man has property in his opinions and the free communication of them. He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them. He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person. He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them. In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights."
This beautifully summarizes property rights and I find it incredibly disingenuous to claim you are fighting for property rights while attempting to silence the voice of others fighting independently for the same goal. To even question such a right to exist is to discredit the whole purpose of property rights!
In short, some are simply making this work harder than it has to be, and now that all of this has been said, let’s hopefully move forward and put the erroneous conclusions about why this organization was formed behind us.
Together we can get this done. Now, let’s focus on getting it done and put all this other nonsense behind us!