They call it tax relief, and will continue doing so until someone actually believes it. But no matter how often you call a pig a princess, it's still a pig. The state Senate is patting itself on the back, and the House will start congratulating itself later today. Soon, Governor Rendell will join the chorus, and they will all hail a "historic" tax relief package, hoping to con all of us long enough so that the real beneficiaries of this relief package - incumbents - can keep their jobs. They'll probably succeed, too.
The reality? No one will see any relief until next year at the earliest. Those who do will be low income seniors who will get a pittance of $250. The rest of us will have to wait for gambling bucks to roll in from seniors and addicts who play the slots. And by the way, school districts will still be able to increase taxes pretty much at will, no matter what they say about "back end referenda."
Unfortunately, the property tax reform package is nothing more than a glitchy re-election gimmick, as gaudy as the casinos we will soon see throughout the state.
If the state legislature were truly interested in real property tax reform, it would start with how properties are assessed. If a property is not properly assessed, it doesn't matter what kind of reform package is adopted.
Let's look at Northampton County. In 2003, a resident did an analysis of what was paid for property and how it was assessed. It appears that the more expensive the property, the lower the assessment! Look at the following table:
Owner Purchase Price County Assessment
#1 $1,750,000 $516,500
#2 $1,350,000 $293,400 (?)
#3 $1,210,000 $546,800
#4 $1,040,000 $772,500 (Brand New Home)
#5 $982,500 $506,500
#6 $919,000 $608,300
#7 $878,000 $420,000
#8 $870,000 $420,000
#9 $850,000 $621,400
#10 $799,000 $453,600
#11 $750,000 $524,700
#12 $741,650 $531,700
#13 $725,000 $428,700
#14 $695,000 $277,000
#15 $650,000 $400,000
It's a system designed to benefit the wealthy minority at the expense of the rest of us. Until it addresses that basic inequity, the state legislature is gambling. It's playing the odds that it can fool us yet again. And the House usually wins.
The Guv is "outraged," but the state House did the right thing yesterday when it refused to vote on a re-election gimmick for incumbents that it laughingly labelled property tax reform. The package endorsed by the Senate does provide a pittance to seniors, but that's pretty much it. Runaway spending in school districts can continue under the current plan, which also fails to address inequities in current property assessments, the basis of all property taxes. Incumbents can no longer pretend they've delievered tax relief.
Now the true motive for rejecting the reform package is NOT some altruistic concern for the taxpayer, but a desire by House Republicans to embarrass Rendell. They've succeeded, but ALL of them are in trouble if they don't come up with a true tax reform package that addresses skyrocketing property taxes. So far, they haven't come close.
AND ANOTHER UPDATE: