Pennsylvania Budget

Shown is the Pennsylvania Capitol building Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

HARRISBURG — It looks like proponents of eliminating the school property tax are ready to go back to the drawing board.

State Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon County said Tuesday he is working on a bill that would create a legislative commission to develop a new plan to replace school property tax revenue with a fair combination of personal income tax, earned income tax and sales taxes.

Though it has not yet been officially proposed, Ryan said he's had more than 40 lawmakers express support for the commission.

Advocates of eliminating the school property tax have repeatedly failed to get enough support from lawmakers to pass a controversial measure, Senate Bill 76.

The challenge, Ryan said, will be for lawmakers to come up with a plan that treats all taxpayers fairly.

“Senate Bill 76 gave 100 percent of the benefit to seniors” he said, while working people absorbed the financial pain to make up for it. “When you have winners at that extreme,” it isn’t going to work, he said.

Lawmakers have no voting days scheduled prior to the end of the 2017-18 legislative session, meaning any new proposals will need to wait until 2019.

Ryan was one of three lawmakers who joined members of the Pennsylvania Liberty Alliance, a group advocating to get rid of school property tax, who came to the Capitol Tuesday with petitions bearing 30,000 signatures of people calling on the governor and lawmakers to re-examine the use of local property tax to help cover the cost of school bills.

Ryan said that voters are clamoring for action on the issue.

“I could see it when I went door-to-door,” Ryan said. “People are angry.”

Ron Boltz, of the Pennsylvania Liberty Alliance, said that members of his group keep calling for property tax elimination because efforts to provide relief on property tax bills without getting rid of them have been underwhelming.

“These have been big promises with very little to show for them,” he said.

Jim Rodkey of the Property Rights Association said petitions collected by the groups include signatures from every county in Pennsylvania.

“We all understand that education is important,” he said. But the use of property tax has just proven to be too unfair, Rodkey said.

Senate Bill 76 would have replaced property tax with an increase in sales tax and income tax while also putting controls on school spending increases.

That legislation never passed either chamber. In 2015, the state Senate came to a 24-24 vote on the bill, but the measure failed when Lt. Gov. Mike Stack cast the tie-breaking vote and opposed the measure.

“That vote broke our hearts,” said state Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill County, who authored Senate Bill 76. Even so, Argall said he refuses to abandon the issue because people like Boltz and Rodkey continue to clamor for property tax elimination.

Former state Sen. Scott Wagner, the Republican candidate for governor, joined the property tax elimination advocates at the Capitol and said their efforts are “pretty remarkable.”

Wagner said he would consider property tax elimination to be a priority if he’s elected. As a member of the Senate, Wagner had signed on as a sponsor of Senate Bill 76 and he said the state would have an easier time coming up with replacement revenue by adopting zero-based budgeting and “balancing our checkbook.” With zero-based budgeting, state agencies would have to justify all increases in spending instead of counting on the Legislature to grant them across-the-board spending increases.

Gov. Tom Wolf has been generally supportive of the idea of property tax reform. Last month, his campaign said, “Wolf will continue to work with the legislature to reduce property taxes.”

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