Flexibility is key for property tax reform

What do property tax reform and a car’s seat have in common?

Both require flexibility.

Drivers and passengers often take this feature for granted. Most car seats can shift forward or backward, giving people more leg room or allowing the driver easier access to the pedals.

Most seats also recline allowing people to choose the most comfortable posture.

What does this have to do with property taxes?

More than you might think.

When you ask state legislators if they support school property tax reform, you’ll hear a loud and positive response.

However, when you ask legislators how to replace the $12 billion in revenue provided by school property taxes, the agreement disappears.

That is because Pennsylvania has 500 school districts and more than 3,000 public schools. Some of those schools are large and sit in the middle of inner-city neighborhoods.

Others are located in Pennsylvania’s growing suburbs. Many are located in rural areas across the Commonwealth.

Funding these schools requires flexibility. Large one-size-fits-all proposals generate great news stories, but they often fall flat and are unable to gain enough support in the Legislature to be enacted.

As a prime example, slot machine gambling was sold to Pennsylvanians as the solution to the property tax problem. The Commonwealth has the casinos, but the property tax issue was not solved. As with too many one-size-fits-all policies, this one over-promised and under-delivered.

Pennsylvania has enacted other reforms aimed at reducing the property tax burden.

One allowed for a local tax swap by eliminating various nuisance taxes by relying more heavily on the income tax.

Another empowered voters to play a larger role in school spending decisions by calling for a referendum on property tax increases above a certain index.

These measures have by no means eliminated the problem, but each helped in its own way.

By evaluating what works and reviewing proposals that have failed to garner enough support, one can identify three characteristics that must be present in a property tax reform proposal in order for it to have a chance to succeed.

First and foremost, the proposal must be flexible enough to work across our diverse Commonwealth.

Second, it must rely on a stable tax structure that has wide public support.

Third, the proposal must generate enough revenue to offset or replace the existing support provided to schools and students.

Finally, we must be able to work together and compromise to find a solution that works for homeowners across the Commonwealth.

I’m sure the tallest basketball player and the shortest horse jockey would not set their car seats in the same position. However, modern car seats allow both of these passengers the flexibility to customize their riding experience.

Legislators must work together to identify a similarly flexible system to fund Pennsylvania’s education system.

If we put aside our differences and commit to working to find a solution that meets the diverse needs of our Commonwealth’s residents, I am confident school property tax relief legislation can be achieved.

State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre-Mifflin counties, represents the 171st House District and serves as chairman of the House Finance Committee, which reviews and analyzes most property tax reform bills that are introduced in the House.