State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Senate's turn on property tax, the House's lament

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Oct 7, 2013 8:02 PM
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A statewide approach to property tax reform was defeated in the state House last week, but the Senate is still working on a plan to get rid of the unpopular levy.

The conventional wisdom around Harrisburg is that it's best to take calls to get rid of school property taxes with a grain of salt - that it's a way to score with voters, but a huge, complex, controversial task. The discord among lawmakers is the latest proof to such cynicism.

It's the state Senate's turn to make a move on property tax reform. But there's no indication yet on how a measure passed by the House will fare. The first scheduled action is on a very different Senate proposal to replace property taxes with higher sales and income taxes

Last year, an earlier incarnation of the proposal got a thumbs-down from the state's Independent Fiscal Office. The IFO analyzed a re-worked plan this year and found, again, it wouldn't come up with enough money for schools.

But Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) said the bill can be revised once more - and his Senate colleagues can be persuaded that reform is within reach.

"The moon's not going to run into Jupiter," Folmer said. "I believe we have to look at the IFO, we may have to do some tweaks, but I believe the philosophy, the underneath philosophy of this bill works."

The House sent the Senate a bill last week that would take a different approach to address the inexorable rise of school property taxes. Instead of eliminating school property taxes statewide, the proposal would give school districts the option of reducing or swapping them for other levies. In the process of that vote, the House roundly defeated the approach Folmer supports.

"This has to be done right, and I don't want to just do a bill for the sake of doing a bill," Folmer said. "We have gone through two IFO reports. We made the changes that we had to from the last one. Going forward, looks like we need to tweak it again."

Senate GOP leadership hasn't expressed interest in any specific proposal. But Folmer said he doesn't think the House plan stands a chance.

"I don't think there's any support for it - not that I've heard of, especially from our leadership," Folmer said. "What's really nice, our leadership is going to give us staff people to help us tweak whatever we need to tweak."

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