Disclaimer: Letters to the Editor express the opinion of the writer and are not necessarily the opinion of WBIG ownership, management or staff.
In the 8 August 2014 Edition of the Times Leader newspaper, Section D, more than 3,000 properties were listed for the Luzerne County Property Tax Sale. These are properties that are in the process of being seized by the Sheriff’s Office and are usually sold to bidders to cover back taxes or mortgage arrears. Incredibly, such tax sales occur in Luzerne County several times each year.
There are a few things that one can discern from this public notice. First, there must be a frightening number of people each year in Luzerne County who lose their homes to property tax seizures. Perhaps more than 10,000. Where do these people go? And what do they do? Secondly, Pennsylvania has 67 counties doing the very same thing; so do the math on home seizures across the state. It’s a very big number. And thirdly, virtually all these people who lose their homes have likely fallen on extremely hard times financially. Indeed, they likely are down to their very last penny and have no where to turn. So what happens to them?
These foreclosures evidence that the present day property tax model used to pay for schools has become an unworkable system, and it is becoming worse by the day. Quite frankly, the property tax model that may have worked well in the 19th century is not working today, and it clearly will no longer be sustainable into the 21st century.
So let me ask this: does seizing all these homes and making all these people homeless still provide the best solution to fund public schools today? Is this even morally acceptable? A change to the tax model is desperately needed, and it is needed now. It is called Senate Bill 76.
SB76 would stop all school tax home foreclosures, and would simply substitute a small (one percent) increase in the sales tax and personal income tax. Everyone would pay a little, but the more one consumes from higher income, the more taxes one would pay. Interestingly, even drug dealers would help pay for schools under the new system.
Please keep in mind that under the present system you may be only one pink slip or only one family illness away from losing your own family home. That is the story of most people who lose their home.
A state imposed tax system that evicts penniless, poor children out on the street is an act or moral cowardice. The people who represent us in Harrisburg are unavoidably responsible for this situation. It should be an embarrassment to them. Fortunately, local legislators like Baker, Yudichak, Boback, and Mullery are heroically fighting to change the system. They support SB 76 because it is the right and moral thing to do.
Legislators like Pashinski, Blake, and Mundy oppose the property tax changes and seem to be comfortable with the evils of the present school property tax system. SB 76 opponents point to possible minor imperfections with a new system as their excuse to oppose it. However, compared to the egregious evils of today’s system, it is a sham of an argument.
Interestingly, it has been reported that there are approximately 620 family homes in Representative Pashinski’s 121st District as of late August 2014 that are up for Sheriff’s Sale. If not supporting SB 76, exactly what is he doing to help them?
Regrettably, a large industry has grown up around the concept of seizing homes for tax sales. Some cold-hearted people actually support these practices because they make a lot of money off the misfortune of many people. These include many (but not all) tax collectors, lawyers, bankers, various businesses, as well as the politicians they cultivate. There is a lot of paperwork involved in each foreclosure, and everyone gets paid.
Moreover, these “foreclosure special interests” contribute handsomely to certain politicians that vote to perpetuate seizing even more family homes. Exactly how long will it take for these people to understand that foreclosing on family homes is no longer a viable strategy to fund public schools?
To our legislators who do not support Senate Bill 76 and the elimination of school property taxes, I ask this: What is your answer to the hundreds of thousands of families that are evicted from their homes every year in Pennsylvania? This is your tax eviction system. This is your problem. What do you say to the thousands of children that you evicted? So far, you have ignored the problem. Shame on you!
Gene Haverlak, president, Mountain Top on the Move