New Castle News


March 25, 2014

Our Opinion: Politicians pander to elderly and ignore real reforms

NEW CASTLE — Whenever we hear politicians propose plans to provide tax savings, we always have a question:

How are they going to pay for it?

And so it is with the latest gimmick coming out of Harrisburg in an election year. This one would impose a freeze on school property taxes. But it would apply only to homeowners age 65 or older.

Conveniently, this is the age group most likely to show up at the polls on Election Day.

To be fair, complaints about property taxes paid by the elderly are not new. It’s often argued that they shouldn’t have to cover the cost of schools if they have no children in them.

But the same could be said for plenty of other taxpayers who are younger than 65. And they don’t enjoy the property tax rebates already provided by the Pennsylvania Lottery.

More to the point, however, is what would happen if school taxes paid by seniors were frozen. Curiously, legislation in Harrisburg does not answer that question.

Some lawmakers have proposed the introduction of keno games into Pennsylvania at bars and restaurants to raise revenue for such tax breaks. But we note the latest gambling scheme in Pennsylvania — that allows bars to operate small games of chance — has gone virtually nowhere, with only a handful of businesses agreeing to pay the fees and participate.

It’s by no means clear that there is much in the way of untapped gambling money still left in the commonwealth. How many times are lawmakers going to return to this particular well and its diminishing returns?

So assuming this legislation passes (and we are skeptical that this measure is much more than an empty political sales pitch to seniors), we wonder if the end result will be higher property taxes on everyone else.

Curiously, while the Legislature seems to be worried about school levies, action to control education costs is going nowhere. For instance, the two political parties put forth competing pension reform plans, with no indication of a meaningful compromise.

And there’s also no movement toward demanding efficiencies from the commonwealth’s 500 school districts that would save tax dollars. Past efforts to encourage consolidation of shrinking districts has evaporated, and state law continues to encourage the construction of new schools over the renovation of existing ones.

At best, the idea of freezing property taxes for seniors is putting the cart before the fiscal horse. If Harrisburg politicians want to save citizens — all citizens — tax dollars, they need to do more than posture.

They need to act.

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