|By State Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill
93rd Legislative District
When we go to our polling place next month on Election Day (Nov. 7), the ballot in front of us will contain the following question:
“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?”
What does this mean? We will be asked to support or oppose an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would allow a local taxing authority - such as a county, school district or municipality - to exempt up to the entire median assessed value of residential properties from the property tax through what is known as the Homestead Exemption.
In 1997, the Pennsylvania Constitution was amended to allow local taxing authorities to reduce any homeowner’s property taxes by no more than 50 percent of the median assessed value of all “homesteads” or primary residences. On Election Day, we will have a choice to raise that figure to 100 percent.
If the November ballot question passes, the General Assembly must still pass legislation which would authorize taxing authorities to act. If that happens, local governments must then decide whether to exercise their option to reduce or eliminate property taxes. If the local taxing authority then chooses elimination, another funding stream would have to be put in place to make up for the lost revenue. Some choices include an Earned Income Tax or a Personal Income Tax.
It is important for us to understand we are NOT voting to do away with property taxes, nor are we voting to require our school districts and municipalities to eliminate them. We are simply giving our local elected officials the authority to do so.
Elected officials cannot openly advocate for or against a ballot question. What I can do is clearly lay out the facts for your consideration and decision. In York County, property taxes are a very big issue. This referendum offers a possible alternative. Some residents acknowledge property taxes are a heavy load to bear, yet see other ways of funding our schools as an even heavier load. Other residents desperately seek relief from property taxes and see this as a potential way out.
It is also necessary to clarify the difference between Senate Bill 76
and this ballot question. Senate Bill 76 focuses only on doing away with school property taxes, while this amendment applies to property taxes imposed by counties, municipalities and school districts. 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. While the majority of the constituents I represent support full property tax elimination and may question support of this constitutional amendment because full homestead exclusion may not be possible for the school district or taxing authority today, this amendment would provide flexibility to those entities in the future.
Advocates for passage of this constitutional amendment believe it would signify a desire for property tax reform and create momentum, while defeat of this amendment could make the goal of property tax elimination more elusive. My simple request is that we, the voters, carefully weigh the issue before Election Day. This question will be on every ballot at every polling place in the Commonwealth. Let us all exercise our privilege of the vote and make our choice on Nov. 7.
Representative Kristin Phillips-Hill
93rd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Scott Little