State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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With crossed fingers and heavy lean on "local"

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Sep 7, 2012 1:34 AM

Set aside, for a moment, the oft-recited line that property tax reform proposals have been debated for decades and have succeeded, well, never.

State Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) was plugging his own proposal to wean local governments off property taxes on witf’s Radio Smart Talk today.  A special House committee is expected to deliver several reform-minded recommendations to the House at the end of November.  Grove sees an opening for his plan, noting that a high-profile House measure to eliminate property taxes statewide, H.B. 1776, was tabled in committee.  (The Lancaster New Era later reported the committee vote to put the bill in limbo was fumbled during a saga of miscommunication worthy of Shakespeare.)

Nevertheless, Grove calls his bill more reasonable, in that it merely enables phasing out property taxes on a county and local government basis.  He offers a plan to allow counties to levy a sales tax and put the revenue toward reducing property taxes.

“Dollar for dollar,” said Grove in a follow-up interview after his Radio Smart Talk appearance.  “Any new revenue coming in as sales tax goes directly to reduce property taxes.”  The proposed tax transfer must first clear a voter referendum.

Another portion of Grove’s bill would allow local governments and school districts to permanently freeze the property tax rate at a lower level and, in its stead, collect a tax on income.  Grove acknowledges that local taxing authorities might be loath to make a permanent cut to any revenue stream. 

“That’s the catch.  They like the property taxes,” he said.  So, even if the bill makes it past maladroit proxy votes in committee (c.f. H.B. 1776) and full-throated opponents, it may not mean an end to the status quo of steadily rising property taxes. 

But Grove is optimistic: “If people want the change, they obviously can run for school board and initiate it themselves, as well.  So it provides that local discussion of, ‘what do we want our local taxes to look like?  Do we still want it on the basis of property taxes, or do we want to change it over to income tax?’”

Grove’s bill wouldn’t apply to the city of Philadelphia, which has its own tax code.


Photo credit: The Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

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