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June 19, 2012 | By | Posted in Legislature

School property tax issue could head to committee with no further action now

By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — The school property tax issue could be headed from legislative debates into a yet-to-be formed committee.

On Tuesday, the House Local Government Committee heard the first blush of House Resolution 774, sponsored by state Rep. Tom Quigley, R-Montgomery. The resolution would create a House committee to study alternatives to property taxes levied by school districts and local governments.

State Rep. Tom Quigley

Quigley said the goal of the committee is to come up with potential solutions to the overall pressures of property taxes, such as high assessments, increasing tax bills and people losing their houses to foreclosure. 

“It’s something that affects all of our areas within the commonwealth, and maybe this committee would be able to look at all those different aspects of it to try to come up with a solution,” he said.

Several committee members voiced their support for the resolution, though the committee will examine the resolution again at its next meeting, which has not been scheduled, before voting on whether move it to the House for a full vote.

“This antiquated tax has got to be addressed in some way, shape or form. I’m certainly open to anything that we can do in terms of working towards that goal,” said Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Berks.

State Rep. Jerry Knowles

Quigley, who has 66 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle on the resolution, said he began considering the creation of a property tax committee last May, but other solutions were in the works, including House Bill  1776.

That legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Jim Cox, R-Berks, would replace school property tax revenue with increases in sales and personal income taxes, while keeping a small percentage of property taxes to pay off school district debt.

House Bill 1776 was tabled in the House Finance Committee last week after members discussed whether the plan would be revenue neutral, as state Department of Revenue estimates suggested a shortfall of around $900 million. That’s why Quigley said this was the time to bring up the committee.

“Given some of the issues that have happened in the past week, this might be an opportunity to examine it from a broader base,” Quigley said.

The scope of the committee is broad enough to look at property taxes from all local governments, as well as the system of funding school districts overall.

House Bill 1776 “addresses the school property tax issue, which is the most important,” Quigley said. “But also, as we’re seeing in our older towns, some of our older cities, the municipal property tax is also catching up in some areas to be just as burdensome as the school property tax. So that’s what this resolution would take a look at in a comprehensive fashion.”

But a committee doesn’t always guarantee solutions. With 15 Republicans and 12 Democrats, the committee will have a number of lawmakers that will have to reach consensus. To drive the issue, Quigley’s resolution requires a report from the committee by Nov. 30.

State Rep. Tom Creighton

Chairman of the House Local Government Rep. Tom Creighton, R-Lancaster, said some lawmakers were upset to see HB 1776 tabled, as it “locked the process in place” without allowing for further discussion of the issue.

“You need to have a consensus of many folks,” he said. “All of us have constituents that are really crying, hurting (because of the) property tax.”

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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