Points of Confusion in Pennsylvania School Property Tax Reform Efforts

For especially the past two years an urgency to do something about severe problems with the exploding amount of the school property tax in some Pennsylvania school districts has been a hot topic among an array of grassroots organizations and affected individuals.  Early on, intense grassroots support focused on HB76/SB76 (aka HB1776/SB1776 in the previous legislative session), a plan to totally eliminate the school property tax, and shift all school funding to the state by increasing the sales tax from 6% to 7%, covering more goods and services, and increasing the personal income tax 41% from 3.07% to 4.34%, as the only answer to the problem.  This was happening as other states are looking for ways to eliminate their income taxes to enhance their attractiveness and fortunes.  Confusion.

No matter the outcome, HB/SB76 will be remembered by the tireless efforts of primarily one citizen, Mr David Baldinger, a person with the salesmanship of PT Barnum and the lure of a pied piper of populism.  A well organized website, extensive email list, and countless visits to group meetings to sell his concept bore fruit in bicameral, bipartisan, simultaneous introduction of legislation in our state capitol for two straight sessions.  Claims are that over 80 grassroots and other organizations now stand behind the idea of total elimination of the school property tax, that is forcing some out of their homes or making it very difficult to sell properties in select areas.  “We never truly own our homes” is an often mentioned phrase as well as HB/SB76 “were not bills written in Harrisburg”, and are the “people’s legislation” are all frequently heard at rallies.

For someone like myself, perceived flaws in total school property tax elimination and the shift of all school funding to the state revealed something ugly and disturbing in the conservative grassroots movement.  Zealotry could trump discussion and debate.  Members of most tea party and 912 groups were expected to be lock step supporters.  Mr Baldinger had whipped a frenzy among the ranks that left no room for dissention.  When I challenged my own affiliated group to debate internally at a meeting, and even offered to lead the discussion, I was ignored.  Alternatives, which I’m prepared to put on the table, could not be considered. There was never room on the agenda for that.  School property tax elimination had become a religion, with David Baldinger its reverend, and most grassroots organization members his fiercely loyal congregation.

Those times I did attempt to raise objections with members of supporting groups, I found others who listened, a few who agreed with me quietly, but have also been yelled at, and stomped away from.  I’ve heard that one very conservative individual was even threatened for not toeing the school tax elimination line.  Inside the capitol legislators have described Mr Baldinger to me as a mean spirited bully.

I see objecting legislators not as agents of large special interests out to get and destroy his bill, as Baldinger would assert, but concerned elected officials who share many of my perceived flaws. Neither Baldinger nor his zealous supporters ever seem to ask or wonder why none of the preeminent conservative professional policy organizations in the state, Americans for Prosperity, the Commonwealth Foundation, or Empower PA, among others, have ever taken more than a neutral position in their support of the  school property tax elimination effort.  Confusion.

As an alternative to HB/SB 76 Rep Seth Grove introduced HB1189, that would give individual school districts more taxing options to replace or even eliminate the hated school property tax locally.  Similar bills have passed in prior years but have never proved successful.  David Baldinger offered an analysis of Rep Grove’s bill on his website, shamelessly calling it “simply another fraud being perpetrated on Pennsylvania taxpayers”, a “useless diversion” and a “worthless fraud”.  Rep Grove was a RINO enemy of the people who had to go!  Usually it’s the political right that derides the left for demonization and vilification of their opposition.  More confusion.

Constituent members of the same local 912 group that seems to not want to debate the merits of 76, as I requested, and whose meetings are held in Rep Grove’s district, attended a town hall held by him December 12.  One member attempted to ambush the legislator with statements he has made compared to what was on or had been removed from his online presence.  I heard few questions to or discussion of the merits of any particulars of his legislation, mostly emotional attacks and attempts to corner the legislator.  The focus had become personal.

Demands were presented to support 76 as the people’s bill, which I heard as an expectation of legislators to act, at least on this legislation, as proxies for direct democracy, which ordinarily the conservative grassroots condemns in favor of a representative republic.  More confusion.

Another 912 constituent member announced to Rep Grove that he would be a primary challenger in 2014.  He tried to entice Grove to come debate property tax elimination at a meeting he will be holding in January along with David Baldinger.  Grove said he would not attend what he characterized as the challenger’s campaign event.

At one point in the meeting, Rep Grove explained how HB76 was dead.  Because it had been defeated as an attempted amendment to his own HB1189 on October 1, rules of the legislature prevent it from reconsideration by the House, either as an amendment or a stand alone bill for the remainder of the session ending 2014.  Only by being substantially changed to something distinctly different could 76 be afforded further consideration, according to Rep Grove.  When I called Rep Grove’s office Dec 16, they restated this position, even if the Senate chooses to pass SB76.

Here comes the real confusion.  In spite of what happened in the House, Baldinger’s organization, with help from the Pa Association of Realtors and others, are pushing forward with efforts to have SB76 reported out of committee and have it approved by a floor vote in the state Senate.

Monday, December 16, according to citizensvoice.com, Citizens Against Property Taxes of Luzerne County (CAPTAX) held a public meeting featuring speaker Chuck Liedike, campaign manager of Real Reform 76, a pro SB76 project of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors.  A claim was made that 26, or one more than half, the magic number of senators needed, have now signed as co-sponsors of the legislation.  Victory, they say, could be right around the corner.

At this point I only know one thing.  Either those forging ahead are delusional and ignorant of rules that would prohibit House concurrence on Senate passage of  SB76 or the information put forth by Rep Seth Grove is inaccurate and misleading.  I guess we shall see.

Note: This post shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania 12/23/13

7 responses to “Points of Confusion in Pennsylvania School Property Tax Reform Efforts

  1. I have concerns over the elimination of property taxes, in that, my burden would shift from my school district to every school district in PA. In other words I would have to be aware of the business/education practices of every district aside my own. Since more funds are spread around and diluted, I would think there would be more potential for fund siphoning to poorly run districts, especially to Philadelphia.

    And what assurance is there that the rates would remain stagnant?

    I would tremendously benefit from the elimination, but I have concerns about what unintended consequences would occur if passed.

    My alternative would to have PA become a ‘right-to-work’ state, which would in part release the fiscal stranglehold on districts… but we know the most of the PA Republicans lack the will to fight the unions.

  2. Todd,
    Having been at the meeting on December 12th that you reference, it seems to me that you are no better than what you claim David Baldinger to be. It is obvious that you are opposed to HB/SB76 and you are quick to condemn anyone who supports it as sheep following Mr. Baldinger. You failed to mention the ignorant manner in which Mr. Grove treated his constituents who dared to disagree with him. He was rude and condescending.
    As for the invite to discuss his legislation at the Town Hall on HB76, Mr. Grove stated, not hat he would not attend a campaign event for the challenger, Dan Bradley, but that he would not help his challenger in a campaign event. it seems to me that his unwillingness to promote his legislation within the district to his constituents is an admission that his bill is worthless and any public discourse on it would only benefit Dan Bradley.
    I appreciate your efforts with this website, but please don’t put yourself out there as an unbiased observer. You even announced at Representative Grove’s Town Hall that you are opposed to HB76. It really takes a lot of steam out of your biased assertions in this article.

  3. HB/SB 76 is about fairness and equity. David Baldinger, a volunteer representative, is also a property owner in PA. He too, like the vast majority of property owners in Pennsylvania, are badly suffering under the ever increasing debt of excessive school property taxes. The current school tax system is so destructive that now many teachers, education programs and infrastructure is being eliminated to maintain the top echelon union and administrator salaries. The property owners now demand that school funding be shared fairly and equitably across the state. It’s long overdue, and we the people, applaud David Baldinger for his fortitude and allegiance to us, the business and residential property owners of Pennsylvania. If God be for us, who would be against us?

  4. I’m not posting to defend Todd, but I don’t approach this as an unbiased article. Also, I re-read the article I don’t see condemnation of supporters of 76; I see condemnation of Baldinger and the supporters who are shutting down the views of the dissenters.

    I’m finding it very difficult to honestly assess the merits of the bill when all I read are the pros.

    I think we all agree there is a problem with ‘inequality’ of the school tax base. What we disagree on is the approach to resolve this ‘inequality’. So why can there not be a civil discussion/debate within the ranks?

    I come from the view that this bill would just be putting a bigger band-aid (spreading the tax base) onto a gaping wound (ie. the unaccountable spending) and if the bill is passed into law, the wound will be forgotten until the next crisis occurs.

    • Actually what I am condemning is zealotry and the dangerous and arrogant assumption of ever allowing ourselves to think we know enough. Thomas Sowell talks of not going beyond stage one thinking, implying that deeper thought can only be attained by constantly looking for what we may have missed, that one piece of the puzzle that may invalidate our initial conclusions. Zealotry and emotional attachment to ideas prevents this. Anyone (including myself) can unwittingly become a useful idiot.

      Even as I think Mr Baldinger is a victim of his own hubris, I absolutely respect anyone willing to commit so much of their time and energy to what they believe. For that I give him the credit he is due.

      As for me I will follow up at some point with my specific concerns and objections to HB/SB76 along with suggestions of alternate solutions.

  5. I am guilty of not going beyond stage 1 thinking.
    I see people who can not pay their school tax (which is absolute nonsense in amounts) actually lose their homes. The elderly who paid for their homes once pay for it over and over. This is not, to me, a Constitutional way to pay for education. No one should lose their possessions to the state. Or county.

    So, when My rep told me about this bill, I was all for it.

    I’d love to see pros and cons of it.

  6. Thank for the clarification Todd. I look forward to your follow-up.

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