We're still rubbing the sleep from our eyes from an off-year election that, in the end, punched well above its weight. There were surprises up and down the Pennsylvania ballot last night. So to get your day started, here's five takeaways from the night that was.
Along with electing a number of judges Tuesday night, Pennsylvania voters agreed to a ballot measure that will amend the constitution to let municipalities stop charging property taxes. It’s a step forward in an ongoing fight to lower the commonwealth’s controversial, high property tax rates. But it’s not likely to have a practical impact anytime soon. Under previous constitutional language, local governments could only exempt up to 50 percent of their median home value from property taxes. Now, they can technically exempt all homeowners. But Terry Madonna, a political analyst from Franklin and Marshall College, noted that can’t happen until there’s a new source of revenue — and that involves action from the legislature. “If the legislature moves, it would have to be a fairly complex piece of legislation that would provide for what the school boards would use to substitute for the loss of the property taxes,” Madonna said.
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November 9, 2017
If you voted Tuesday in Pennsylvania’s election, you were presented with an interesting ballot question — should the state legislature allow local taxing authorities to exempt 100 percent of any family’s primary residence value when collecting taxes? Pennsylvania voted yes by a margin of 54 to 46 percent, effectively taking the first step toward significant property tax reform. This would allow the legislature to write a law eliminating property taxes. But while eliminating the property tax could aid individual families in the short-term, the ballot question has the potential to seriously harm the long-term stability of the Commonwealth. Public schools in Pennsylvania — a state known as the “Wild West” of property tax laws — are among the most contentiously funded in the nation, which creates real problems. In fact, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently reinstated a controversial case that claims Pennsylvania’s system for funding public schools violates both the state constitution’s equal protection provision and its guarantee of a “thorough and efficient system” of education. At the root of the public school funding issue in Pennsylvania is the property tax. According to The Notebook, a Philadelphia-based independent news source, the effective tax rate across Pennsylvania varies greatly by county with no discernible pattern and results in massive school funding disparities. To make matters worse, the average effective tax rate in Pennsylvania is one of the highest in the nation. This means some counties have superb schools, while others have seriously underfunded ones — and in Pennsylvania this has little correlation to the type of neighborhood the school is in. Schools in socio-economically similar counties are vastly different — the Inquirer reported the city of Reading spent roughly $6,500 per pupil during the 2015-16 school year, compared to Lower Merion Township’s $17,000 per pupil. Reading and Lower Merion both have property tax rates in the top 20 percent across the state.
Pennsylvania voters Tuesday approved a ballot question that opens up the possibility of lowering or eliminating property taxes across the state. The referendum frees state legislators to pass a law allow taxing authorities (counties, municipalities, and school districts) to exempt residents from paying any tax on their primary residences. Previously, state law capped that exclusion at 50 percent of an area’s median home value. Advocates have said that the longstanding reliance on property taxes, a primary source of school funding, hurts homeowners on fixed incomes. But current revenue levels cannot be eliminated until lawmakers first find a replacement, which likely would require more state legislation. Sales and income taxes are the usual suggestions.
The74 November 2017
When South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster stepped onto the stage at Charter Schools USA’s annual summit in August, it was to thunderous applause. Alternately smoothing his tie and shielding his eyes from the floodlights, he told a couple of folksy jokes before pivoting to the message he’d come to deliver. The Rust Belt’s economic losses are the South’s gains, McMaster said, noting how saddened he was by the boarded-up buildings he saw on his trip to Cleveland the year before to nominate Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention. He was sorry about the city’s decline, he said, but South Carolina is booming. The state needed more charter schools, McMaster told the cheering audience, and he planned to push for laws to make it easier for them to open. “And I assure you,” he added, “there’s a lot of politics involved often in getting things set up, and whatever politics I can bring to bear is on the side of the charter schools. Wherever we can set them up, we want more, because we know that they work.”
Wednesday, November 15 – Berks County I.U. 14 (Reading)
Thursday, November 16 – Midwestern I.U. 4 (Grove City)
Friday, November 17 – Westmoreland I.U. 7 (Greensburg)
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