PA's Legislature is planning something special for us at the polls on November 7th. Did you get your invitation? No? Neither did I, but I can assure you that at this party there will be one of those gag gifts your smart ass relatives love to give - a deceivingly big, intricately wrapped package with nothing but air on the inside.
There are many forms of voter suppression. Some are blatant, in-your-face, and racially motivated like Jim Crow laws were in the South. Others are more subtle and insidious. Think of the ad buys on Facebook during last year’s presidential election. In that latter category falls PA’s ballot referendum , namely Joint Resolution 1, on eliminating property tax. ( The resolution moved through the most recent session of the state legislature as HB 1285 sponsored by Berks’ own Rep. David Maloney.)
Joint Resolution 1 as it will appear on the ballot on November 7th is written in the manner of most PA ballot initiatives - in the doublespeak of some character from Alice in Wonderland. Make no mistake - this kind of tactic is a deliberate attempt by proponents of the cause (eliminating property taxes) to confuse and discourage people at the polls. When voters feel like they need to pass the PA bar exam before stepping into the voting booth, one of two things happens. That person either willy-nilly picks their choice or more likely - they just don't vote.
Additionally, extreme right wingers and libertarians have been holding clandestine town halls to get feedback on the plan and to coerce their voters to get out to the polls. (Case in point: Take a look at the agenda for this coming Thursday’s Berks County Patriots’ meeting.) Many of the town halls are being held in inaccessible places with little notice.
Again - guess my invitation got lost in the mail!
This is how the ballot question will read on November 7th, 2017:
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?
Did you have trouble understanding that? You’re not alone. Legal jargon is complicated. Homestead? Why didn’t they just say house? Ballotpedia, which gives legislation readability and grade level scores, gave the resolution's title alone a grade level of 30! This is a deliberate attempt to confuse Pennsylvanians. Like I said, that’s considered voter suppression.
What does all this actually mean?
A YES vote would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution, clearing the way for legislators to eliminate property taxes for homeowners. Local taxing authorities―counties, municipalities, and school districts―would be allowed to exempt up to 100 percent of the assessed value of each homestead from taxes, meaning people could pay zero property tax.
Sounds good in theory, but getting rid of property taxes would strip vital funding from school districts, police, and fire companies. The state currently funds more than 40% of any given school district’s budget, so local communities have to make up the rest. Without a way to raise taxes, school districts won’t be able to meet the educational needs of their community. Eliminating the property tax, without a viable plan for replacing that funding, is irresponsible and short sighted.
A NO vote simply opposes the amendment. The amount local taxing authorities can exempt would remain at 50% of the median value of the home (as outlined in a 1997 amendment to the PA Constitution).
Why you should vote NO :
As in most legislation peddled to us by the snake oil salesmen on the right, what you see is not all you are getting. Amending the Pennsylvania Constitution clears the way for dangerous legislation like SB 76 (sponsored by Berks' Sen. David Argall) that is being pushed by the corporate lobby to alleviate their tax burden and shift it to us. This amendment alone doesn’t eliminate property taxes. It is part of a long game strategy to defund public schools and fill the pockets of the already wealthy.
It's going to be quite a party Novebember 7th. If you do get your “invitation” make sure you R.S.V.P. with a big, fat, NO!