NANTICOKE – It was easy to tell Frank Chest supported the elimination of school property taxes.
He joined approximately 125 other people Saturday night at Luzerne County Community College for a presentation on legislation pending in Harrisburg to get rid of the property taxes and make up the revenue by raising the state sales tax 1 percent.
"I feel that education should be paid for by everyone, not just property owners," Chest said.
The Newport Township resident has seen his property taxes for the Greater Nanticoke Area School District increase time and time again.
But instead of the 3.2 million property owners across the state bankrolling school districts, House Bill 1776 and Senate Bill 1400 would rely on Pennsylvania's 12.4 million residents for funding.
Each would raise the sales tax to 7 percent and expand the sales tax base to include goods and services currently exempt such as haircuts, movie theater tickets, some legal services, certain food and clothing. It would be phased in over two years and allow a small portion, approximately 10 percent, of the property tax to remain in effect to cover long-term debt. The tax would be completely done away with once the debt is paid.
Additional revenue would be raised through an increase of the state income tax to 4.01 percent from 3.07 percent.
Combined, the income and sales taxes would raise revenue equal to the property tax. If it exceeds the property tax total, the income tax would be correspondingly decreased.
Districts would initially be 100 percent funded and increases would be tied to the rate of inflation.
The law also permits school districts to tax personal income or earned income to pay for major projects, but only if the tax is approved in a no-exception referendum.
The elimination of the school property tax has been a long time coming and the idea has attracted the support of state legislators who could act on the bills before the end of year, said Dave Baldinger, administrator of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations, which presented the nearly 90-minute program at LCCC.
The organization also was involved in crafting the Property Tax Independence Act, he said.
"This is our bill. This is the people's bill," Baldinger said.
He urged the audience to contact their legislators to support the bills.
The Senate bill has the best chance of passing, he added.
State Reps. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, and Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, co-sponsors of the legislation, attended the program along with state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township. Republican Aaron Kaufer, who is running against state Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston, also attended and said he supports the legislation.
Boback said she was surprised more people did not turn out.
"How do you vote against it?" asked Mullery.
Baker said she is doing her due diligence on the legislation. "Tonight was an education opportunity for me," she said.