WILKES-BARRE — Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner, speaking at a town hall meeting at King’s College on Thursday night, pledged to eliminate school property taxes should he become governor, instead raising revenue through an increase in sales and personal income tax.
Wagner said school property tax elimination was a pivotal issue of his platform, with great impact on residents, especially senior citizens.
Wagner, a businessman and former state senator, said he supports increasing the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent and increasing the personal income tax 1.88 percent to 4.95 percent. He believes that would translate into a savings of about $600 per average homeowner.
“The median property tax is $1,972 and the median increase in personal and sales tax for a state resident would be $1,408, that’s $600 saved at least,” Wagner said. “But I believe that number might even be higher.”
Part of the tax burden, he said, would fall upon the shoulders of tourists and other visitors making purchases while spending time in Pennsylvania.
Wagner emphasized that property tax reform alone was not an option. He believes the tax needs to be eliminated.
Audience members cheered when Wagner said Gov. Tom Wolf — the Democratic incumbent Wagner is seeking to unseat — broke his promise of property tax relief for Pennsylvanians.
“Its been three-and-a-half years and we haven’t seen that relief,” he said. “If Tom Wolf is re-elected he will do nothing except tax and spend.”
Republican Sue Henry, who is running for the state House seat held by Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Wilkes-Barre), said she is frequently approached by older people who no longer have children in school and feel unduly burdened by the school property tax.
“Again this week, I met a woman whose children have been out of school for 40 years and she’s still paying taxes,” Henry said. “Forty years too long.”
Ron Boltz, of the Pennsylvania Liberty Alliance, told attendees there were many misconceptions presented by those opposed to the elimination of school property taxes, including “loss of local control.”
“If there was truly local control, Harrisburg wouldn’t be putting the burden of funding pensions on the local school districts,” he said.
Property taxes, Boltz said, put an undue burden on senior property owners and those facing financial struggles.
“Let me give you a number: 10,000,” he said. “10,000 people lost their home every year to sheriff sale because they can’t afford to pay their property taxes.”
Boltz said school districts would have the ability to raise additional revenue for special projects but only with approval of voters by referendum and only for a limited time.
“Should voters approve an additional tax for a special project, it will only be for a short period,” he explained.
If he’s elected, Wagner said he would ensure property-tax elimination would become a reality.
“I’m not going to sit in my office and wait to sign a bill,” he said. “I’m going to make things happen.”
Joyce Dombroski-Gebhardt, president of CAPTaxes (Citizens Against Property Taxes in Luzerne County), said the event provided a chance to gain updated information and to network with like-minded people from all over the state.
“In addition to Luzerne County, there were people here from Lackawanna, Wyoming, York and Lebanon counties,” she said. “I was pleased with the turnout.”