Local lawmakers likely to fight Pa. property tax relief bill

May 03, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH


The Pennsylvania Senate has passed a measure that favors senior citizens while providing property tax cuts in exchange for gambling revenue, but it will likely meet resistance from two Franklin County legislators when it goes before the state House of Representatives today.

The measure reached by legislative negotiators Monday would use the $1 billion projected to be generated each year by new slot machines to fund tax cuts for the state's 3 million homeowners.

State Rep. Patrick E. Fleagle, R-Waynesboro, said the cuts might only translate into $100 or $200 for the majority of residents in the 90th District, which includes most of southern Franklin County.


"I just have serious reservations about the amount of reform and the limited amount of people it would go to. The vast majority of my constituents won't see one dollar of tax reform," he said.

Fleagle said he'll "keep an open mind" in caucus on the bill today but is starting out as a "no" vote. State Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland, who joins Fleagle in supporting the elimination of property taxes altogether, said he also enters the day as a "no" vote, while noting House members have yet to see the legislation.

Because the plan was developed in conference committee, it requires a yes/no vote from legislators without the opportunity for amendment.

State Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin, was one of nine senators to vote against the measure - known as Special Session House Bill 39 - on Tuesday. He did not return calls to his office or home Tuesday.

The conference committee's proposal is "terribly disappointing," Kauffman said.

"In my opinion, it is almost an insult to the homeowners in Pennsylvania," Kauffman said. "This is just a token (cut) to a few homeowners."

To kick-start the program next year, voters in almost all of the state's 501 school districts would choose whether to offset additional property tax cuts of at least 25 percent by increasing local income taxes.

Once the 14 permitted slots parlors in the state are fully operational, projected to occur by the end of the decade, their revenue would reduce property taxes with about $250 million earmarked to expand an existing property tax and rent rebate program that benefits low-income seniors, the disabled and widows and widowers 50 and older.

The core property tax cuts wouldn't start for two years, Fleagle said.

That means property owners might not see a reduced tax bill, Kauffman said.

Property owners are looking at "very little if any relief, and by the time they see that relief, they will see a significant increase in their property taxes," Kauffman said.

Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell has endorsed the legislation, which would repeal Act 72 of 2004. That law would have divided the gambling revenue among property owners regardless of age, but most of the state's 501 school boards used one of the law's provisions to refuse to participate.

In Franklin County, the only school board that opted to participate in Act 72 was the one overseeing Tuscarora School District in the Mercersburg area. Earlier this year, the school board was granted exemptions to keep it from sending a 2006-07 tax hike to ballots for voter approval as anticipated.

Special Session House Bill 39 would, in what Kauffman called its "least publicized" aspect, require school boards to seek voter approval for the majority of future property tax increases that exceed inflation.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association on Tuesday called the conference committee's report "incomplete" and urged legislators to look at ways to control school district's costs.

Kauffman said he feels the state senators who voted in favor of Special Session House Bill 39 on Tuesday might have done so out of obligation and that he hasn't encountered anyone who is "excited" about the measure.

Fleagle ventured that the Democrats and southeastern Republicans in the state House would create a large base of the votes needed to pass Special Session House Bill 39.

"I've got to believe the governor has twisted some arms in the House to vote for it," Fleagle said.

"It's a few bucks in a few years. This is not a reform bill. This is an additional rebate bill for a certain segment of the population," Kauffman said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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