Referendum question addressed by Peters Township School Board

October 18, 2017 GMT

Cramming 60 words into one sentence, the referendum question being asked on Nov. 7 is likely to confuse the average Pennsylvania voter before he or she chooses yes or no, or doesn’t bother to answer.Basically, a majority of positive responses could pave the way toward the elimination of property taxes, but the route is rather circuitous.“It’s difficult to say whether you’re for or against this amendment because if it is voted for, nothing changes,” Peters Township School Board member Lisa Anderson explained. “There will need to be additional legislation at the state level to enable the local taxing authority to actually do this.“Anderson regularly gives the board an update on issues pertaining to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, and her Oct. 16 report focused on the referendum, which proposes an amendment to the state constitution.“They have not come out for or against it,” she said about the PSBA. “There is no positive or negative effect. It would be any subsequent legislation that would cause an either positive or negative effect.“The amendment would “permit the General Assembly to enact legislation authorizing local taxing authorities to exclude from taxation up to 100 percent of the assessed value of each homestead property within a local taxing jurisdiction.” Since a 1997 amendment, the limit has been 50 percent.“I look at this as a negative,” school board member Bill Merrell said regarding the possibility of eventually shifting the tax burden. “At the current time, your real estate taxes are tax-deductible. Sales taxes aren’t. That’s one of the benefits that homeowners always have had.“State Rep. David Maloney, R-Berks County, sponsored the bill that created the ballot question.“The state formula for distributing education funds in Pennsylvania allows school districts with static populations to receive funds disproportionate to their need, while growing school districts get shortchanged,” he said in a press release announcing his sponsorship. “The result is that growing school districts constantly raise property taxes to make up the shortfall, while legislators with districts that have low property taxes are unwilling to vote to change the system.“Part of Berks County also is covered by the Senate district of Republican David Argyll, who has made several attempts at legislation to “eliminate all school property taxes across the Commonwealth and replace those taxes with a combination of funding from the personal income tax and the sales and use tax,” according to his website.Previous Peters Township School board discussions have addressed Argyll’s proposal, especially with regard to the probability of the state government becoming the primary funding source for school districts.“When we were looking at Senate Bill 76, we were talking about the fact that it wasn’t stable,” Anderson said. “It wasn’t predictable. You didn’t know, if there was a downturn in the economy, whether you were going to get that money.“While school-related property taxes have risen substantially throughout the state in recent years, Anderson pointed to the growing obligation to pay for unfunded mandates, especially with regard to the Public School Employees’ Retirement System, as a major contributing factor.“In my opinion, if the legislators work on reducing those types of increases and expenses, I personally don’t think that you would be seeing the increases in real estate taxes that you’re seeing,” she said. “So I think they’re looking at the wrong thing.”