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Property tax amendment needs refining

The issue of eliminating school property taxes again is waking up in the Pennsylvania Legislature.

Sen. John DiSanto, R-Dauphin/Perry, has introduced a proposal that would allow residents of this state to vote directly on the elimination of the tax.

DiSanto’s plan involves an amendment to the state constitution, what the senator deems a logical follow-up to Pennsylvania voters’ approval of an amendment in 2017 expanding the homestead exclusion to 100 percent of a home’s assessed value.

It is laudable that DiSanto is determined to keep the property tax issue alive. However, the issue is not without important questions and concerns that need addressing before eliminating property taxes is ever put on election ballots.

It is reasonable to conclude that voters would approve overwhelmingly elimination of the tax without much serious thought, but it is not out of the question that doing away with it might prove worse than having it continue as an education revenue source.

Then there is the question of whether eliminating the tax with scenarios by which a limited version of it could be re-implemented under purported — albeit sometimes questionable — emergency situations would, at least for some school systems, amount to merely paving the way for another layer of taxation.

The word “another” is reasonable because property-tax elimination would necessitate significant expansion of the state’s sales and income taxes, and commonwealth residents who follow state government are well aware that lawmakers have balked traditionally at increasing either tax.

And, as the cost of education grows, how would the Legislature ensure that the two taxes would keep up with those escalations?

It is unfortunate that so much local tax pressure currently is placed on the state’s property owners, but it is hard to fathom how school funding from the state could forever meet all of the needs without some local-level contribution.

DiSanto’s proposal sounds good, but is it really as good as he professes it to be?

Unfortunately, not likely.

Meanwhile, can voters interested primarily in reducing their local-tax obligations really be counted on to think-through the issue as much as necessary before going to the polls to render what hopefully would be a responsible, long-term-workable decision?

The bottom line is that all of the pieces of the property-tax-elimination puzzle must be in place before lawmakers approve the DiSanto plan to take the proposal to the voters.

To do otherwise could produce an education-funding morass from which it could be difficult to escape without worse harm to property owners’ wallets, pocketbooks and bank accounts than what they already are experiencing.

One reason why prior attempts at school property tax elimination failed is because they contained a window for re-instituting the tax, if necessary, however minimally at first.

Therefore, DiSanto’s proposal needs much more discussion and acknowledgment of realities than what the full Senate and House have had, or seem willing to undertake.

“Constituents in my district and across the entire commonwealth are suffering greatly under the weight of constantly increasing school property taxes,” DiSanto said Monday. “The status quo is unacceptable, and voter approval of this constitutional amendment would force the General Assembly to address this issue once and for all.”

Perhaps. But without all connected issues first being resolved, voters’ Election Day involvement never should be sought.

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