Op-Ed: Emergency Tax Relief for the Elderly needs to happen now

School property taxes are crippling homeowners.

This crushing taxation accounted for $15 billion last year alone. It increases about three percent annually and it is difficult for many of our citizens to budget for it.

As a result, more than 10,000 homes are seized each year in Pennsylvania and auctioned off for failure to pay this tax. It is particularly troubling that the majority of the home seizures are from our elderly. Many of our retirees, who are on fixed incomes, are faced with the stark choice of paying for food or paying this tax.

This is wrong, and our senior citizens don’t deserve it.

            The much celebrated Senate Bill 76 was introduced in 2015 to eliminate the school property tax and it shifted the burden to increased sales and income taxes. I believe there should be better stewardship of the already exorbitant spending by Harrisburg rather than shifting – or increasing – taxes elsewhere. This notwithstanding, school property taxes must be addressed and SB 76 eliminated them by expanding the tax base.

Despite broad support, SB 76 failed to pass on a tie vote in 2015, with the deciding “no” being cast by disgraced Democrat Lieutenant Governor Michael Stack.

            Since then, SB 76 has been sitting in committee, lacking sufficient votes to bring it back to the Senate floor for a vote. I spoke to the bill’s sponsor after I was sworn into the Senate in June and I pledged my support as a co-sponsor. It has my vote should it come back to the floor. In the meantime, our citizens – especially the elderly – are facing the burden of crushing school property taxes with no sign of help in the foreseeable future.

            As a retired U.S. Army Colonel, my life has been about action and fixing problems. With this in mind, and with SB 76 tabled, we need to tackle this burdensome taxation with a view aimed at addressing the greatest need first, which is helping the elderly. The majority of the more than 10,000 homes seized each year for failure to pay taxes are from this part of our population.

My response to this is called Emergency Tax Relief for the Elderly, which I plan on introducing this autumn. This legislation will exempt households that make $40,000 or less annually, are 65 or older, and have resided in Pennsylvania for at least 10 years. This is a realistic and achievable measure to secure immediate protection for those at risk of losing their homes due to this oppressive tax.

            My Emergency Tax Relief for the Elderly proposal usually comes with the question “where are you going to get the money to replace the lost tax revenue?” I find such a question unpalatable in that it infers that this money belongs to the state, which it does not. It rather belongs to those who earned it, not faceless bureaucrats in Harrisburg.

However, the answer is easy in this case: the money is available from the Race Horse Development and Gaming Act, which passed in 2004. At the time, Democrat Governor Ed Rendell promised if we allowed gambling in the Commonwealth, we could effectively end the school property tax. As so often happens in politics, Governor Rendell oversold the prospect of legalized gambling’s ability to end school taxes. More egregious, last year, a sizable portion of the nearly $1.5 billion in tax revenues that it generated was siphoned off elsewhere.

As part of my Emergency Tax relief for the Elderly, all tax revenues generated from gambling in Pennsylvania will be locked into doing what it was promised to do. In this case, paying off the school property taxes owed annually by the elderly.  This will provide the “lost revenue” and not increase the tax burden on those still paying this burdensome tax.

            What is particularly disconcerting to me is that school property taxes are punishing those who were good citizens all their lives. They invested in their communities, paid their taxes, bought a home, raised a family and in their golden years are being evicted because of the irresponsible spending habits of government. Emergency Tax relief for the Elderly is a first step in breaking the greedy tax and spend habits of government.

Indeed, it is time to get the government off the backs and out of the wallets of our elderly so they can enjoy their golden years without the fear of being driven from their homes by an oppressive government. With your help and support, we can make this happen. And the next steps will be tax relief for the disabled and then for veterans.           


      Senator Mastriano represents the 33rd District in the Pennsylvania Senate. The District includes Adams County and parts of Franklin, Cumberland and York counties.

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