On the far right side of the ballot next Tuesday, you’ll see 5 questions. Four have to do with whether or not the judges below should retain their offices for another term:
THOMAS SAYLOR – Currently chief justice of the PA Supreme Court, which he’s served on for 20 years. Republican, age 71 in December.
DEBRA TODD - Democrat, age 60. Has served 10 years on the PA Supreme Court.
JACQUELINE O. SHOGAN – Republican, age 64. Has served on the PA Superior Court for 10 years.
THOMAS M. DELRICCI has been a Judge of the Common Pleas Court of Montgomery County for 20 years. Currently President Judge. Age 62. I couldn’t find his party affiliation anywhere, but both parties are endorsing his retention.
“Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to 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, rather than limit the exclusion to one-half of the median assessed value of all homestead property, which is the existing law?”
If you’re like most of us, you didn’t understand a word of it. There’s supposed to be a “plain English” explanation posted in all polling places next Tuesday. I’ve heard though, that the “plain English” wording isn’t much better. And do you really want to be trying to wrap your brain around the meaning at the last minute?
Here’s what I think it does and doesn’t mean.
* It absolutely DOES NOT mean your property taxes will be lowered or eliminated. *
The current law says that local authorities (that is, counties or school boards or townships) can grant homestead property tax exclusion on your assessment, up to 50%. Most homeowners get one. Look on your school tax bill under “Homestead”. Mine lowers my assessment about 8.5% and I have a fairly modest home. I don’t know who, if anyone, gets 50% off. If anyone does, I hope they’re poorer than me and not richer.
The ballot question asks whether the percentage should be changed to 100%. That is, should your local authority be allowed to lower assessments by up to 100%. Does this mean this would actually happen? No.
The main reason this probably won’t happen is that lowered property taxes MUST be made up elsewhere. You might get higher income taxes, with a portion going to school tax, or a new local sales tax in addition to the state sales tax. Think about how this shifts the tax burden.
A higher income tax would shift it off seniors and onto working people. You might think that’s fairer and maybe it is. Working people tend to be the parents with kids in our schools, or in charter schools supported by our district. But there are lots of single working people with no children living in the district who might move to get away from a higher income tax, thus lowering other tax income. And you might end up with the same homestead exclusion on your house while others get a better percentage, PLUS having to pay a higher income tax.
What would be better, I think, is if the PA General Assembly raised funding for education back to its old levels and quit playing these sorts of games, trying to appease PA’s wealthy estate owners, setting rich folks against the poor and middle class. And putting the burden of ultimate blame on local authorities instead of on the state legislature, who created the funding mess in the first place.
I’d recommend voting NO on this question, because it’s too misleading, too hard to understand, and smacks of political manipulation.