Open Seat 48th E-Newsletter

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June 3, 2019

The Senate will reconvene Monday, June 3 at 1 p.m.

Senate State Government Committee Confirmation Hearing

The Senate State Government Committee, which I chair, will hold a confirmation hearing on Tuesday, June 4 at 10 a.m. in Hearing Room One, North Office Building, to consider the nomination of Kathy Boockvar as the Secretary of the PA Department of State.

Palmyra School District Renovations Projects Featured in NASA Publication

According to a press release from Palmyra Area School District (PASD), NASA selected Palmyra Area Middle School (PAMS) and Forge Road Elementary School construction projects to represent the state of Pennsylvania in a new online communications project, “Space for U.S.” This project features stories illustrating how NASA science has made an impact in every U.S. state, and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and regions along the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes.

The article discusses how Reynold Energy Services Project Development Manager, John Hayden, used “RETScreen” clean-energy management software to assess the technical and financial viability of the School District’s guaranteed energy savings projects. RETScreen accesses NASA’s satellite-derived weather data to analyze the correlation between a building’s energy use and weather data. The article also features quotes from PASD Director of Business Affairs, Darcy Brenner-Smith and PAMS STEM teacher, Jeff Remington. Click here to read the Palmyra article.

Constituent Highlight: Ahkee Cox-Cowan

Congratulations to Ahkee Cox-Cowan of Swatara Township, Dauphin County and the 48th Senatorial District, on being named one of Kutztown University’s four team captains for the 2019 football season!

Last season, Ahkee produced a career-high 62 tackles (43 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions. The cornerback is a two-time All-PSAC East First Team honoree, two-time Don Hansen Gazette Super Region 1 pick and 2017 D2CCA all-region choice. He set program single-season records with 17 pass breakups and 20 passes defended in 2017, and his 2018 totals of 14 breakups and 17 passes defended ranked in the top five all-time. Ahkee is only five passes defended and nine breakups away from tying program career records. Great job and best of luck this season!

Column: Explaining SB 76

I’m proud to stand with Senator Argall and other Senate colleagues in supporting Senate Bill 76 to eliminate school property taxes because I believe no tax should have the power to leave you homeless.

SB 76 is the only plan being offered today to totally eliminate school property taxes – not partial reduction, not elimination for some but not all taxpayers, and not a new program to lessen property tax burdens. SB 76 provides for the total elimination of school property taxes.

Taxpayers have been – and continue to be – generous in their support of Pennsylvania education. Local school property taxes across the Commonwealth over the next two years will cost taxpayers an estimated $14.22 Billion. This is in addition to state and federal tax moneys.

It’s only a matter of time before the current system to fund education becomes unsustainable and completely overwhelms taxpayers. Every year, school property taxes rise by about $500 Million. At the same time, the cry for total elimination of these levies also grows. It’s probably why voters approved a 2017 amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution to expand the so-called “homestead exemption”.

This exclusion provides for the 100% elimination of the assessed value of each owner-occupied property (previously, the exemption was 50% of the median assessed value of homestead properties). The homestead exemption does not include commercial and retail properties, rental and vacation properties, or factories and industrial facilities. It also gives another option in the much needed and long overdue goal of eliminating school property taxes.

To totally eliminate over $14 Billion in school property taxes, you need alternative revenues and there are just four realistic options for replacement moneys: Personal Income Tax, Earned Income Tax, Sales Tax, or some other – new – tax. A homestead only exemption requires about $8.5 Billion in alternate taxes.

SB 76 eliminates school property taxes using three of these four options: expand the PIT and Sales Tax to replace school property taxes dollar-for-dollar while giving schools the ability to raise additional revenues through either a local PIT or EIT – after voter approval.

Each 0.1% increase in the Personal Income Tax generates about $400 Million in replacement revenues. A 1% Sales Tax increase from 6% to 7% (7% to 8% in Allegheny County and 8% to 9% in Philadelphia) raises about $1.7 Billion and an expansion of the base raises even more.

Admittedly, expanding the base is what causes much of the opposition to the plan. However, the proposed expansion would exempt clothing under $50 and would not include food items on the WIC list: fruits and vegetables, milk, cheese, yogurt, juices, infant food, whole wheat breads and grains, breakfast cereals, peanut butter, and eggs. The proposed expansion would include foods with little nutritional value: sodas, fruit and sports drinks, cheese spreads, and foods with added sugars, fats, salt, or oils.

To calculate how an expansion of the Sales Tax changes would impact you, look at how much you now pay in school property taxes. For each $1,000 in current school property taxes, you would need to spend an additional $14,285 on the newly taxable goods or services.

Some critics of this plan focus on a proposal to protect schools: retaining some property taxes to cover outstanding debt. Such claims are misleading as once current debts are repaid, all school property taxes would be totally eliminated.

The clock is ticking: property taxes continue to rise and taxpayers continue to bear the burdens. There’s just one plan to completely eliminate school property taxes: Senate Bill 76, which I support because no tax should have the power to leave you homeless.

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