Property tax changes: Debate with caution

We are pretty confident that almost every property owner in the region believes their property taxes are much too high.

That’s mostly due to high school property taxes.

The question isn’t whether the public education systems in the region need the property taxes to function. Clearly, they do. The question is more whether that revenue should be raised through means other than property taxes. And that’s worth debating.

A move away from Pennsylvania’s reliance on property taxes to fund public education has been proposed before without results. It’s being attempted again.

The latest proposal being eyed in the state Senate would eliminate or lower school property taxes. In their place, the personal income tax would be increased by 41 percent and sales taxes to 7 percent, a 17-percent jump. Additionally, many existing sales tax exemptions would be eliminated and revenues would be absorbed from other property tax subsidy programs.

Curiously, one of those programs would be slot-machine tax revenue.

We remember when Gov. Rendell was championing slots in Pennsylvania and promised the revenue from them would be enough to eliminate property taxes. How did that turn out?

The point is, every Pennsylvanian owning property would like their property taxes for schools to be less than they are.

And taxes on sales and personal income more accurately take revenue proportionately from those who can most afford it, which is not a bad thing.

But we need to be careful. Traditionally, when government seeks to help taxpayers the cure winds up not helping nearly as much as promised, or even intended.

If nothing else, we hope the debate over eliminating property taxes at least calls attention to the fact that they are much too great a burden on Pennsylvania property owners and some sort of tax reform is needed.

-Williamsport Sun-Gazette