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Property Tax Accountability

Yesterday a majority of Pennsylvania voters passed a referendum, the first step in amending the Pennsylvania constitution to allow for a much fairer property tax situation.

The current Pennsylvania property tax arrangement is backwards, dating either from the 9th Century or the 1720s, either way fundamentally unfair to home owners.

Perhaps in the 9th Century or the 1720s owning a home or property was a big deal and unusual, indicating great wealth. Taxing the source of that great wealth may have made sense a thousand years ago or three hundred years ago, but today’s America bears no similarity to those bygone worlds.

In fact, one of the great things about America is that our form of capitalism distributes the greatest amount of wealth to the greatest number of people, based on one’s willingness to work hard. This is the heart of American meritocracy, and home ownership in a meritocracy is widespread, not unique. Owning your own home is an American standard, a basic goal of all Americans.

And so punitively taxing the very emblem of meritocracy is an artifact of the feudal society America rejected in 1776.

But Pennsylvania home taxes are now so high that people are essentially renting their homes from the government.

No matter if you buy your home with cash, build it yourself on property that has been in your family, or buy it with a mortgage that you eventually pay off, you still must pay incredibly burdensome property taxes that bear no relationship to the actual costs your home might (or might not) impose on the surrounding community.

Property taxes are now a form of rent. And if you run out of money to pay the government rent, the government can come and steal your home from you and sell it cheap to someone else.

The unpleasant truth is, your home is now a cash cow for others.

Teacher’s unions and their pet career politicians are the primary beneficiaries of the current property tax arrangement, rooted as it is in the government threat to steal your home if you don’t pay their crazy rent. Current property taxes are conveniently off the books, coerced from unwilling serfs, and paid to unaccountable government employees who by all standards are primarily failing.

Most government-run schools are disasters, failing to deliver on the most basic educational results, and yet the tax-paying public is constantly told that we must pay ever yet more money “for the kids.” And here in PA, the teachers automatically must pay the unions, and the unions then dump our own tax money into buying yet more career politicians to work against our interests.

Something has to give.

This is more about making government tax collection accountable to the people who pay the taxes, than it is about total tax reduction. Right now there is zero accountability for property tax expenditures or increases. Greedy unions control almost the entire process.

Unaccountable government schools continue to underperform and yet demand more and more money. The government schools oppose all forms of competition because they are committed more to holding onto their own power than they are to the success of the children they are supposed to educate. The way property taxes support this shameful situation serves everyone involved except the children and the taxpayers.

Something has to change.

The Pennsylvania of the 21st Century cannot continue to live under an ancient feudal arrangement. It is not fair, it is not sustainable, it is not good government.

We all deserve better.