This November, you, the voters will have an opportunity to change the Pennsylvania Constitution. After a long and intentional process, voters will ultimately decide whether Pennsylvania’s property tax homestead exemption should be increased from 50 percent to 100 percent.
The 50 percent limit on homestead exemptions has been in place since 1997, when Pennsylvanians approved a constitutional amendment that capped a homeowner’s property tax reduction to half the median assessed value of all “homesteads,” or primary residences, in the jurisdiction.
Now, after a bill proposing to increase that property tax exemption to 100 percent passed two consecutive legislative sessions, the question will appear on the November ballot where voters will approve or disapprove the proposed change.
Unsurprisingly, there has been great interest surrounding this ballot question. Since I have been in elected office, no issue has garnered more interest than the local school property tax. More constituents have contacted me on this one issue than any other, and their frustration with inaction is growing.
Just last month, I joined Senator Martin in hosting the Senate Majority Policy Committee in Lancaster, following our request for a hearing to discuss property taxes and the proposed reforms under consideration. The hearing was well attended and despite a difference of opinion, opposing sides of the issue were passionate but respectful.
From the majority of those attending, it was abundantly clear that after 325 years of property taxes and unmet promises of real reform, taxpayers have had enough.
It was also clear that the proposed constitutional amendment has caused confusion. Many constituents have asked for a layman’s explanation of what this constitutional amendment will do and for my opinion.
To that end, there a few things to consider when you head to the polls in November.
One is that this proposed amendment is not the same as Senate Bill 76 and will not eliminate school property taxes for all Pennsylvanians.
Senate Bill 76 focuses solely on school property taxes while this amendment applies to property taxes imposed by counties, municipalities and school districts. Further, the proposed constitutional amendment does not require any of these taxing authorities to exclude 100 percent of the assessed value of the homestead – it simply allows for the option.
Because it is not a requirement, some have labeled this constitutional amendment as a “do nothing” proposal that should be defeated. While I respect that opinion, I caution against this thought.
Though I certainly would prefer full property tax elimination, it makes little sense to oppose this option. Full homestead exclusion may not be possible for any particular school district or taxing authority today, but this amendment provides flexibility to those same entities in the future.
But most importantly, this constitutional amendment carries political weight.
If the voters of Pennsylvania vote down this proposal, those who have thus far resisted property tax elimination efforts will point to this vote as further evidence that property taxes are not a real problem for the majority of Pennsylvanians and would deliver another blow to the property tax elimination efforts.
As a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 76, my support for this effort will continue. However, should this constitutional amendment be voted down, I believe it will be harder to achieve our goal of school property tax elimination.
On the flip-side, an affirmative vote and the passage of this constitutional amendment shows a desire for property tax reform and a momentum that cannot be denied.
As a homeowner and taxpayer who shares in the frustration of seemingly ever-increasing property taxes, I intend to vote in support of this amendment.
While the constitutional amendment is not the answer, it is an important part of the conversation.