Op-ed Column by State Senators Lisa Boscola and Pat Browne
Citizens of Pennsylvania will have an opportunity to cast their vote for an important ballot question which could lead to real property tax reform. We are urging citizens to vote yes.
Due to its legal language and structure, ballot questions are often written in confusing and hard-to-understand and this one is no different. However, the underlying issue is pretty straight forward. By voting yes, voters will approve a constitutional amendment to expand the homestead exclusion from one-half of the median assessed value of all homestead properties in a taxing district to up to 100 percent of the assessed value of each homestead property.
Essentially, if approved, this would allow local taxing authorities – school districts, municipalities – to offer not only a reduction in a homeowner’s property tax, but also potentially the elimination of their local property tax. It would also base the relief on the value of a particular property, not on a figure based on the value of all properties in that taxing district.
Pennsylvania’s property tax system is antiquated. It has its roots in medieval England at a time when land ownership and personal wealth were strongly associated. We all know that is no longer necessarily the case. However, this archaic system serves as the backbone of funding our local municipal and school district operations.
Over the past few decades, the majority of the increased education costs have been borne by local property owners. This has had a particularly devastating effect on older communities with large senior citizen populations and continues to serve as a barrier of entry into homeownership for many younger, working class families. Unfortunately, finding a solution for homeowner property tax burden has eluded the General Assembly.
One element that proves difficult when looking to provide property tax relief is the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The uniformity provision requires that all properties within a municipality or school district must be taxed at the same rate, whether they are a primary residence, vacation property or businesses. While this constitutional provision may seem to assure tax fairness, it actually preserves the state’s antiquated property tax system and hampers efforts to devise an equitable tax structure that provides desperately needed property tax relief.
This important ballot referendum would alter the uniformity provision in the state’s constitution in a way that benefits all homeowners. If voters approve this ballot question, the General Assembly will need to pass legislation that would permit local governments to exclude up to 100 percent of the assessed value of a homestead property. Then it will be up to state government working in partnership with local taxing authorities to determine how best to fund the increased homestead exemption.
Simply put, this ballot question moves forward the process to provide meaningful property tax relief for Pennsylvania homeowners. This is why we ask you to vote in support of this ballot question on Tuesday, November 7th.
# # #
Contact: Matt Moyer (Senator Browne’s Office) 610-821-8468 firstname.lastname@example.org
Joe Kelly (Senator Boscola’s Office) 610-868-8667 email@example.com