Op-ed: Property tax rebate program should be expanded

152nd Legislative District Democratic candidate Daryl Boling argues for expanding the “tax rebate program for low -income people and seniors both in amount and income requirements proportionate to inflation rate increases since 1971.”

By Daryl Boling

In talking to voters over the last year, there have been two consistent concerns: the cost and the quality of their education system and the amount they are paying in taxes toward maintaining and growing that system. The amount they are paying, out of pocket, continues to go up, year after year…but the quality of those services has not proportionately increased. To the contrary, by most measures, they have fallen and only continue to get worse.

Our current state representative, Tom Murt, says that reducing property tax burdens for low-income individuals and seniors is one of his highest priorities. But he certainly has not been putting his money where his mouth is.

Understanding that our sources of state revenue are vast and varied — in practice and in proposal and that the success of these revenue sources can be contingent upon a number of variables — it is important to know our history. For starters, since 1971, Pennsylvania has relied on gambling of various kinds to supply property tax relief. This is not the most reliable of revenue sources, given the potential liability in regard to associated operating expenses. It is with this that the Legislature enacted a limited property tax rebate program for low-income seniors, providing a $650 rebate. That program is funded by proceeds from the Pennsylvania Lottery. While at the time it provided immediate relief, this fixed rebate rate of $650 has not grown in relation to the growth of our property tax bills over a similar span of time. And today, that $650 represents only a very small percentage of the property tax burdens for low-income individuals and seniors.

In 2006, as part of its approval of casino gambling, the Legislature established a homestead property tax relief program funded by casino revenues. Also an unvetted plan fraught with its own potential liabilities, it was a solution that directed funds to school districts to offset their need to raise property taxes (the jury is still arguably out in this regard).

Despite receiving this homestead program, since Tom Murt took office in 2007, property taxes in this area have increased by at least 30 percent and in some areas much more. And things have now gotten even worse. Many 152nd District homeowners will be experiencing an average $3,000 per year effective property tax increase due to the Trump tax reform act’s $10,000 cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions. Murt never once protested this Trump administration plan. With this — literally pouring SALT in the wounds of homeowners — the “Murt-era” net increase in property tax rates for many taxpayers now exceeds 40 percent.

I feel that there has to be a better way: expand the tax rebate program for low -income people and seniors both in amount and income requirements proportionate to inflation rate increases since 1971. Thus, a $4,100 rebate rather than $650. Whether funded by the expansion of gambling, a tax on fracking, closing the Delaware Loophole, a higher corporate tax or reforms to ensure more equality of the tax burden between the middle and upper classes, or other means: these individuals deserve their fair share. ••

Daryl Boling is the Democratic candidate in the 152nd Legislative District.