A Citizen Speaks on Local Tax Reform

I support Senator Argall’s SB 76 to eliminate school property taxes because I believe no tax should have the power to leave you homeless.

During a recent forum on local tax reform hosted by Senators Argall, Martin, and Aument, Jim Rodkey, a constituent and good friend, received a standing ovation for his remarks, which I’d like to briefly summarize.

Jim Rodkey is a homeowner, a husband, a father, and a grandfather who’s watched and commented on the near impossibility of some to become homeowners.

Jim Rodkey and advocates for eliminating school property taxes see them as arbitrary, unjust, and unfair and say no education debate can omit references to the current funding system with its inequities and injustices for property owners.

Advocates bemoan efforts to try to fix the current system.  They note these attempts have failed and many have actually resulted in continued unfairness and more inequities for taxpayers and some have actually cost taxpayers more.  At the same time, they say it’s rare when the unfairness of the property tax is considered.

Citizens like Jim Rodkey believe in the inherent right to property, which no one has a right to take.  They call the status quo “legal plunder” and ask:  “By what right can anyone justly claim to put my home on the auction block?  Working families aren’t looking to escape responsibility to fund education; we’re willing to pay but in more equitable ways.”  They know funding children’s education is important for future generations.

Advocates believe the current status quo is unsustainable and jeopardizes children’s education because it cannot be sustained and this is what frustrates advocates:  opponents admit the problems of the current system but defend the status quo rather than trying to change it.

Jim and his wife Sue have traveled – at their own expense –across the Commonwealth in support of eliminating school property taxes.  They believe the right to their homes is a sacred trust and government has a duty – an obligation – to uphold and protect property rights.

During their travels, they’ve talked to people who say it’s too late to save their homes from taxes.  They’ve talked with others who sacrifice food, clothing, and medication trying to keep their homes.  They’ve met people who struggle with the death of a spouse and then also face the potential loss of their homes; some are callously told they “bought too much house.”

They’ve talked with young people who want to buy a house and can afford the mortgage but not the property taxes.  They’ve talked with veterans who sacrificed for our country but struggle with taxes.  They’ve talked with people with stagnant wages, decreased property values, and increasing property taxes they cannot pay.  They’ve also seen blight due to property taxes that keep property owners from maintaining their homes.

Advocates ask:  “Do we continue to ignore the plights of citizens to protect the status quo?  Do we continue to accept 10,000 people a year losing their homes due to a broken system?  Why are 45,000 residents – one every 11-½ minutes leaving Pennsylvania to escape taxes?”

Jim Rodkey notes there’s plenty of blame to go around – except for one group:  homeowners who didn’t create the problems.  Yet, only homeowners are held accountable.  They either pay taxes on their homes or they lose those homes, which is why Jim asks:  “How is this not legalized plunder?  How is this not extortion?  How is this an acceptable way of doing business?  Why can’t we fund education without denying the right of home ownership?”

This must change because no tax should have the power to leave you homeless.