HARRISBURG — Hundreds of demonstrators — including a contingent of local activists — flooded the state Capitol on Tuesday to help fight for real estate tax elimination and to urge state legislators to act now.
Joyce Dombroski Gebhardt, president of the Luzerne County Citizens Against Property Taxes, and members of the group joined in the rally to convince lawmakers to get rid of real estate taxes and replace the lost revenue by increasing the personal income tax and sales tax.
“We spent the morning talking to as many legislators as we could find to let them know how we feel,” Gebhardt, of Kingston, said said. “We want them to get House Bill 76 to the floor for a vote.”
According to the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition, House Bill 76 — which is stalled in committee — and Senate Bill 76, if passed, would forever eliminate “the antiquated and inequitable school property tax.”
Taxes on real estate constitute the main funding source for school districts, counties and municipalities.
Gebhardt and her group say property taxes are unfair and contribute to residential foreclosures. They say by eliminating the tax and opting for higher income and sales taxes, revenue would increase and in a more fair manner.
“Senior citizens are getting hammered,” said Charlie Urban of Kingston, a member of the group. “And hardworking, middle-class families are getting hit hard.”
Support for bill
Tom Dombroski of Trucksville, Gebhardt’s father, said 24 state senators are now supporting the measure — just two short of a majority.
State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, said he was proud of the citizen lobbyists who turned out.
“We have formed a broad, bi-partisan coalition with state grass roots organizations to advance the simple idea that our students, our schools and our taxpayers deserve better than an archaic property tax system that can no longer adequately fund our schools,” Yudichak said.
State Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, said she has supported property tax reform for years and she is a co-sponsor of House Bill 76.
“With people losing their homes across the state, now is the time to act on real reform,” she said.
State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, said Tuesday’s rally and other forums held recently are important to getting commitments from people willing to work to get a bill to the governor’s desk.
“In addition to the elimination bills, there are proposals to freeze property taxes for senior citizens, so it is possible we will see action on that front as well.”
State Reps. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston, and Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, say the measure is “flawed” and has many shortcomings.
“The intent is noble and deserves careful attention to rectify the inadequacies of the bill,” Pashinski said. “Multibillion-dollar companies have the responsibility and the resources to pay their fare share. HB 76 would give Wal-Mart, Home Depot and huge companies like these a complete pass on property taxes which would then pass the burden of higher costs back on the very people we are trying to help.”
The Pennsylvania State Education Association opposes measure. On its website, the PSEA states: “The Property Tax Independence Act is a flawed piece of legislation that unfairly targets working class families, increases the tax burden on those who can least afford it and weakens your local schools. For these reasons, PSEA opposes this legislation and asks that you not lend your name or support to the proposal.”