Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rohrer: Abolish school property taxes now

A guest column today by state Rep. Sam Rohrer, who is leading the fight to eliminate school property taxes in Pennsylvania.

Abolish school property taxes now

The state's impending budget negotiations beg Gov. Ed Rendell and the legislature to remember the lessons learned from the credit crunch fallout: If you cannot afford it, do not expect someone else to pay for it.

Case in point: $6.2 billion dollars is a price that Pennsylvania taxpayers cannot afford to pay for the governor's leviathan 2008-2009 educational funding program. Even if state government agreed to give the governor a blank check to spend on education it would not fix the school funding crisis in Pennsylvania.

With the Boston Globe highlighting increased prices in every market over the past year (26 percent in milk prices, 40 percent in egg prices, and 300 percent in wheat prices), financially unstable school districts will no longer be able to force fiscally strapped homeowners to pay higher property taxes. This unconstitutional and oft-raised tax will lead to the inevitable foreclosure of countless more privately owned properties.

What we can afford and must address is comprehensive school finance reform. Again frivolously throwing more money at the school system will not provide the solution to a collapsing funding system.

In fact, school districts nationwide have been given access to unlimited funds with the goal of fixing problems-from underperformance to desegregation. Yet despite these "strategic investments," (a.k.a. increased taxes, increased spending and increased debt), these problems remain unresolved.

For example, a recent Cato Institute policy analysis revealed that Sausalito, California school district tax payers who "invested" $12,300 per pupil were rewarded with the lowest student test scores in the country.

Alarmingly all too similar, the Pennsylvania Legislature's Costing Out Report guesstimates that it will now cost $12,057 per pupil to bring statewide academic performance up to par with national standards.

Rather than relying on the mirage of expanded gaming revenue to avoid future astronomical property tax increases, Pennsylvania students and taxpayers deserve a fair and flexible solution leading to comprehensive educational funding reform.

Taxpayer-funded costing out study or not, the school property taxes remains one of the most unfair and completely immoral taxes since it is completely disconnected from the taxpayer's ability to pay.

However, by replacing our current "pay or you go" funding system with a "pay as you go" system, the School Property Tax Elimination Act (HB 1275) provides a broad-based, same-rate sales tax that allows Pennsylvania's economy to flourish as a 0 percent, School Property Tax FREE Zone, via a tax that is not only progressive but also allows us to remain economically competitive to our neighboring states.

While home values decrease, foreclosures continue to increase. As a result, many school districts are near financial distress because lowering property values are stressing revenue for already under-funded districts.

Again, under House Bill 1275, equality can be restored to each of Pennsylvania's 501 school districts by deriving funds from a voluntary, consumption-based tax based on the broadest public base-virtually anyone that purchases goods and services.
Districts will receive necessary funding, regardless of previous designation as "impoverished districts," through the state's Education Operating Fund to which all sales tax revenue is deposited. Additionally, local school boards will retain the decision-making power to allocate these funds without intervention from the state.

In an effort to make our public schools as efficient as possible, while providing a high-quality, properly-funded education, school districts will have the added advantage of implementing state-of-the-art, data-driven decision making (D3M) technology to accurately measure school spending and academic performance.

Other longstanding, unsolved challenges are fully addressed, such as long overdue equity adjustments that are realized through the designation of gaming revenues; legitimate discipline in spending that recognizes regular and necessary increases, indexing growth rates to sales tax collection; and the inclusion of local voter approval for future borrowing.

Finally and most importantly, true property ownership will be fully restored by House Bill 1275 through the total elimination of the school property tax for every homeowner.

In short, by relying on the flexible and fair, same-rate sales tax, we can restore the Constitutional right to own private property for every Pennsylvanian, while improving the economy of the state and of the individual through the comprehensive reform provided by the School Property Tax Elimination Act.

Join me and 27 taxpayer groups in support of this historic piece of legislation by participating in the Save Our Homes Rally on June 2 from 11:00 a.m. to noon in the Capitol Rotunda. For further information, please visit

State Rep. Sam Rohrer is a Republican who represents the 128th House District in Berks County.