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November 29, 2012 | By | Posted in Legislature

Report tees up property tax reform once again

QUIGLEY: Chairman of the Select Committee on Property Tax Reform.

By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent

HARRISBURG —Legislative efforts for Pennsylvania property tax reform next session may build upon past proposals.

Or, the efforts might address some of the biggest cost drivers for local property tax increases.

It all depends on whether lawmakers take cues from a new report , or whether they let it collect dust.

Thursday, 13 lawmakers on the Select Committee on Property Tax Reform voted to accept its draft report with 13 recommendations, as well as analysis of past property tax proposals.

Some recommendations include:

  • Amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow home and farm exemption of up to 100 percent of the property value at the discretion of local jurisdictions;
  • Examining the exact cost of charter and cyber charter schools, which are funded by school districts;
  • Amend the tools taxing jurisdictions have for recouping tax debts;
  • Allow taxing jurisdictions more diversified options for revenue-neutral tax shifts.

Last session saw certain reform efforts fail, such as attempts to swap property taxes with other tax increases or provide more local control.

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Tom Quigley, R-Montgomery, said the report’s ideas are complementary to some proposals that already exist, but offer bipartisan “low-hanging fruit” the Legislature could achieve next session.

That includes taking care of already-discussed issues, such as basing special education funding on actual costs for districts.

“If you take care of that, it will have a residual effect on the property taxes in general,” Quigley said.

Quigley, who fashioned the committee earlier this year, won’t be returning next session to see these efforts through. He lost re-election this year to Democrat Mark Painter.

But, Quigley said, the report will be beneficial, and proves that the Legislature hasn’t let the issue die despite failures of past reforms.

“There’s going to be bills that are definitely going to be introduced, and I’m hopeful some of the information you’re going to see here will spur that development,” Quigley said.

At least one returning lawmaker said she is determined to see these issues through next session. About three hours before the committee voted on the draft report, Rep. Madeline Dean, D-Montgomery, proposed that the committee include a recommendation to reconvene a similar committee next session.

“We have a tremendous amount of valuable information,” Dean said. “I think we’re on the way to some good ideas and some bipartisan relief but if we just simply evaporate tomorrow and do not continue the work of this committee, I think we will have really missed an opportunity.”

Figures from the Independent Fiscal Office show that school districts are collecting much more in local property taxes than they used to.

About 20 years ago, districts collected more than $2 billion in local property taxes. Since then, statewide collection figures have increased by an average of 6.2 percent each year.

In 2010-11, school districts collected more than $11.1 billion dollars in local property taxes.

BROWN: Wants to see more funding reform issues addressed next session.

Committee member Rep. Rosemary Brown, R-Monroe, said lawmakers need to address inequitable school funding to be fair to schools, students and taxpayers.

Brown said she would’ve liked the report to address funding reform in greater detail, but plans to push the issue next session.

“There are school districts receiving 20 percent of their funding from the state while others receive 60 percent,” she said. “Clearly, the current education distribution formula is not fair for all school districts, children and taxpayers, especially within my district.”

Contact Melissa Daniels at melissa@paindependent.com

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Melissa Daniels is a reporter for PA Independent. She can be reached at 717-350-0962 or Melissa@PAIndependent.com

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