Category Archives: State Politics

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

Mount Vernon Assembly December 7, 2013–A Confluence of Forces for Freedom

It was the weekend of November 9-10, just two weeks ago, when I finished reading Mark R Levin’s newest book, The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic, in which he argues for a first ever Article V amendments convention initiated by the states as the only means to bring America back to its intended path of limited central government that respects the sovereignty of the states and the people.  With this book, true scholar Levin reveals the depth of his connection to the essence of America’s founding principles, how they have been gradually eroded over time, and the urgency to restore them in order that our great nation remains the beacon of liberty and freedom for the world.  I was moved.  I thought of how the teaparty/912 movement should consider dropping everything to focus on making a first ever Article V convention a reality.

Then, on November 10, a brief twitter interaction, led to a two week journey of amazing discovery of information that leaves us today two weeks away from what may be one of the most significant gatherings in America since the days of our nation’s founding.  It started like this:

Dec7a

That link to a story at The Times of Northwest Indiana, “Indiana Senate leader working toward U.S. constitutional convention”, suggested Levin’s book was having an immediate impact.  It told of a planned gathering at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, on December 7, with representatives from various states considering an Article V convention.  I made the assumption that it was Levin’s book that initiated this action, but also found it curious that Mark Levin or The Liberty Amendments was never mentioned in the article.

Monday morning, November 11, I called the author of the article, Dan Carden.  He explained that Indiana has a history of Article V attempts and that President of the Indiana Senate, David Long, started this process well before the August 13 release of Levin’s book.  I noted that Levin was talking about his new book well in advance of its release and still thought there may be some connection.  Carden said he didn’t know.

I then called the office of Senator David Long.  They confirmed that his efforts and Levin’s book coming together at the same time was a coincidence, but certainly not insignificant.  They said they have read The Liberty Amendments, which by the way never mentions Senator Long’s efforts, and are excited about the boost it may bring.

Curiously, Long’s office told me the main source of opposition they have encountered is coming from the very teaparty/912 groups I thought should be its most ardent supporters.  Their fear is of a runaway convention that would completely rewrite our constitution.  Senator Long, however, also recognized this threat and introduced defining and limiting bills as model legislation that has passed the Indiana legislature and been signed into law by Governor Mike Pence.  They are serious and ready to go.

Senator Long’s office also informed me that Senator Long would be on Mark Levin’s radio show Wednesday evening, November 13, in the final hour to discuss the December 7 gathering they are calling The Mount Vernon Assembly.  Of course, I listened to that show, and thanks to Levin’s making available podcasts without subscription, anyone else can too.  Here is the link to this must listen interview.  The Senator Long portion runs from 84:40 to 106:20 and is a very thorough discussion of what is taking place.  Long indicated 26 states, at that point, intend to send delegates to the meeting.

This past Tuesday, November 19, I visited the Pennsylvania state capitol to encourage our legislature, so far absent, to send a delegation to Mount Vernon. While there I discovered that, without knowledge of the December 7 gathering, our liberty loving states rights senator, Mike Folmer, has introduced a co-sponsorship memorandum declaring Pennsylvania’s support of the Liberty Amendments as outlined in Levin’s book.

Finally, I called Senator Long’s office again yesterday, November 22, for any updates.  They told me the state count is now about 30 and that I could check with Wisconsin Rep Chris Kapenga, who is handling RSVPs and keeping tabs on that.  I called Kapenga’s office and they confirmed the count is about 30 states, but they are hoping for a few more, and a room has been reserved in the library.

That room, by the way, is in the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, Washington’s estate.  As if this unlikely confluence of events is not enough to ponder, Washington wrote over 200 years ago of a need for a library to house his works.  This wish was only concluded September 27, 2013 with the library’s dedication.  How’s that for a tingle up the spine?

Would it not be almost incomprehensibly ironic then, if the renewed progressive push and centralization of power by the current administration, with its disregard for our constitution as an outdated, out of touch document of yesteryear, turns out to be a fatal overreach that contributes to a constitutionally provided Article V convention of the states that effects its restoration and solidification for generations yet to come?  Thanks to Mark R Levin, Senator David Long, and every patriot taking this effort seriously!

Note: This post shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania