Pennsylvania’s Empty Promise on Property Tax Reform
Don’t be Duped: School Property Tax Reform Won’t Lower Taxes
By Ira Weiss
April 13, 2017
It happens every spring, when the governor’s budget address spurs the Pennsylvania General Assembly into action. Like the sophisticated signaling network that enables plants to green and flower with the season, a perennial topic stirs within lawmakers and they begin to nurture the idea that resonates so well with their constituents: “Let’s repeal the school property tax!”
And the buzz begins.
This would be amusing to witness if the consequences of property tax “reform” weren’t so alarming and if the possibility of passage weren’t so real: The bill by state Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, failed by only one vote last year, and in the November election, the GOP widened its majority control of both the House and Senate. I use scare quotes with the word because it’s not reform in the typical definition of improving upon a social, political or economic practice. Instead, this vow to relieve taxpayers’ burden for the commonwealth’s public schools is mere rhetoric, an empty promise.
The school property tax elimination bill gaining momentum at the Capitol — HB/SB 76 — would not deliver true tax elimination for most taxpayers. In fact, under the Property Tax Independence Act, you could end up paying more money to Harrisburg — in sales, personal income and, yes, even property taxes.
That’s because the bill would not eliminate municipal or county property taxes, and school districts could continue to collect real estate taxes to pay off existing debt, which is typically issued as 20-year bonds. An analysis by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials found that only 2 percent of school districts could totally cut their tax levies.
Moreover, the association warns that the $2.7 billion in property tax paid by businesses across Pennsylvania would shift to individuals in the form of higher personal income and sales taxes. That means Wal-Mart gets a free ride at your expense.
This scenario shows how the bill could cost a Pittsburgh family more money:
• The bill would raise the state sales tax from 6 to 7 percent — 8 percent in Allegheny County — and expand the tax to cover a broad range of products and services that are now exempt, including clothing items above $50 and food. Think about your weekly grocery bill, that date-night dinner for two, the cost of prescription drugs, new clothing for the school year or Christmas gifts. Do you pay for child care? That, too, would be subject to tax. Get out your calculator if you plan to buy big-ticket items such as appliances or a car.
• The personal income tax would go from 3.07 percent to 4.95 percent. So, if you earn $50,000, your state income tax would jump from $1,535 to $2,475.
• If you own a home assessed at $100,000, your current combined property taxes are $2,288 without homestead or senior exemptions. Even if the school property tax of $984 were eliminated, your $940 increase in state income tax would nearly equal that.
This bill has serious ramifications beyond economics. Chief among these is loss of local control. Eliminating school property tax does away with local control — school boards wouldn’t have taxing authority. The state would oversee and second-guess the board members you carefully elected to make important decisions about running your child’s school.
If the Legislature repeals the school property tax, starting July 1 districts would receive state reimbursements quarterly (with cost-of-living adjustment). That would lock in existing funding disparities among districts across the state.
It’s important to speak out about this issue — even if you think it’s a tired topic. Educate your neighbors, and make your concerns about the details of HB/SB 76 known to your legislators. Are you truly comfortable with wresting control of public school funding away from local communities?
Ira Weiss, the founder of Weiss Burkardt Kramer LLC, serves as the solicitor for the Pittsburgh Public Schools and several other school districts (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Private practitioner to concentrate on litigation with emphasis on construction litigation, related matters at acclaimed law firm noted for public sector practice
PITTSBURGH (March 6, 2017) – Weiss Burkardt Kramer LLC, one of Pennsylvania’s leading public-sector law firms, is pleased to announce that attorney Jessica Quinn-Horgan has joined the firm “of counsel.” Quinn-Horgan, a private practitioner with broad expertise in construction, commercial and corporate litigation, will focus on litigation with an emphasis on construction litigation and related matters.
A resident of Mt. Lebanon, Quinn-Horgan has managed her private practice for a decade, and is a noted author and public speaker on construction and procurement, contracting, and legal issues for contractors.
“With several of our school districts engaged in building and renovation projects, we are fortunate to bring an attorney on board with the depth of experience that Jessica has acquired, both through her own practice and with other notable law firms,” said Ira Weiss, founding partner of WBK. “Her extensive experience in construction and commercial litigation, including trial work and preparation of all types of pleadings, will provide additional capacity for advising clients on construction and litigation matters.”
Quinn-Horgan was an associate with Pittsburgh firms Blumling & Gusky, LLP and Tucker Arensberg, PC before establishing her practice in 2007. She also served as general counsel for several construction companies in Pittsburgh and Ohio, for whom she handled all legal affairs and litigated multiple claims in state and federal courts.
“It’s a pleasure and an honor to work with the attorneys at WBK who offer counsel in all facets of education law,” Quinn-Horgan said. “This is a prestigious firm whose attorneys are ranked among the best in Pennsylvania. I’m looking forward to diving into clients’ school construction and renovation issues. With research findings that aesthetic, practical learning environments can make a difference for students, school construction has become more and more important to districts, taxpayers and parents.”
WBK is a full-service law firm with attorneys who practice exclusively in the public sector representing school districts, local governments, taxing authorities and other public entities requiring special counsel. The firm also has a full-service Delinquent Tax and Municipal Claims Collections Department. For more information about Weiss Burkardt Kramer LLC, visit www.wbklegal.com.
Starting at 9:10am on Monday, November 21, 2016, four of WBK’s attorneys will be presenting work at the Tri-State Area School Study Council. “Let Me Do My Job: Challenges for School Administrators” will be held at Edgewood Country Club and will include the following topics:
1. “Implementing Student Discipline Mandates: Beware of Procedural Traps” Aimee Zundel
2. “Employee Discipline – Something Old, Something New” Jocelyn Kramer & Ira Weiss
3. “Job Searches in the Age of So…cial Media” Ira Weiss
4. “Do We Enroll? – Navigating Enrollment Questions From Custody to Homelessness” Aimee Zundel & Rebecca Heaton Hall
Registration for the event will begin at 8:30am. A question and answer round will follow the presentations at 11:45am. For additional information, please visit the following link:
The website for the University of Pittsburgh describes “Tri-State’s vast knowledge and experience base” as rooted in “a membership of over one-hundred school districts and a team of leaders and consultants with rich backgrounds in education, including former school superintendents and professors of education.”
Ira Weiss, the firm’s founding partner, will be delivering the keynote address at the 2016 annual conference for NAPSA (National Association of Pupil Administrators) at the Sheraton Station Square in Pittsburgh, PA, at 8:30 – 10:00 A.M. on October 31st. Mr. Weiss will be speaking about the legal challenges of “Title IX & Employee Boundaries/Student Relationships.” Topics of his address will include transgender issues and Title IX, homeless students, disciplinary measures, and appropriate boundaries between educators and students in a cyber world. A panel style discussion will follow.
NAPSA describes the established reputation of Weiss and his well-regarded firm: “Weiss Burkardt Kramer, LLC, serves as Solicitor for a number of school districts throughout Western Pennsylvania including the School District of Pittsburgh. The firm has developed policies addressing child abuse, the rights of LGBT students and social medial issues including the establishment of employee student boundaries. He has previously served as Solicitor for Allegheny County. He is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Education in the Department of Administrative and Policy Studies. Mr. Weiss has been named a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer for 2005 to the present and received the 2008 Presidents Award for the Career Achievement in School Law from the Pennsylvania School Boards Solicitors Association. He also received the Distinguished Achievement in Law Award from the University of Pittsburgh Tri State School Study Council in 2012.”
This Friday (October 7, 2016), two of WBK’s education attorneys will present work at the Exceptional Children’s Conference in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, at the Marriot at Penn Square. From 2:15 to 3:15 pm, Jocelyn Kramer will discuss “Disciplining Students with Disabilities” in the venue’s Independence Room. Aimee Zundel will also present her work “When Does a Procedural Violation Result in Substantive Denial of FAPE?” 2:15 to 3:15 pm in the Hickory Room. For additional information, please visit:
Please visit the rest of our site to learn more about our firm and the accomplishments of our attorneys.
Rebecca Heaton Hall is among the panelists for “Pennsylvania Special Education Law,” a one-day seminar for professionals who work with children with special needs in school settings. The session is presented by the National Business Institute at the DoubleTree by Hilton, downtown Pittsburgh, on Tuesday, October 18 . Her topics are “Successfully Handling Disciplinary Actions for Special Needs Students” and “Ensuring Successful Due Process Procedures.” For registration information: www.nbi-sems.com or 800-930-6182.
Tri-State Area School Study Council recognized the accomplishments of Jocelyn P. Kramer with the Distinguished Achievement in Law Award. Jocelyn leads the firm’s Special Education practice area, focusing on special education, student services and school employment law. She has served as Solicitor and Special Council for Western Pennsylvania school clients since 2004, currently as Deputy Solicitor for the Pittsburgh Public Schools. She is the Secretary for the Association of Municipal and School Solicitors.
WBK partner Jocelyn Kramer was named a 2016 Fast Tracker by the Pittsburgh Business Times. The program honors up-and-comers under 40 years of age in the region’s business community. The selection process concentrates on their accomplishments to date and potential for significant career advancement. Many of the honorees are making a difference not only at their respective organizations, but in the community as well.
Ira Weiss is among the keynote speakers at the National Association of Pupil Services Administrators Conference Oct. 30-Nov. 2, at Station Square in Pittsburgh. His topic, “Title IX & Employee Boundaries/Student Relationships,” will address the significant legal challenges facing Pupil Services Administrators. The preliminary topics would include challenges presented by the recent enactment of ESSA and homeless students, Title IX and transgender issues as well as a legal review of significant developments.
Jocelyn Kramer, partner, Weiss Burkardt Kramer, along with Arthur D. Feldman, Esq., will present “Punishment and Discipline of Children with Disabilities,” a continuing legal education program sponsored by the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Committee on Law and Disability. The session on March 29 from noon to 1 p.m. in the Koppers Building Conference Center will review federal and state laws regarding the punishment and discipline of school students with disabilities. To register, contact ACBA, 412-261-6161. For additional information about this topic and WBK’s Special Education practice, contact Jocelyn Kramer, 412-391-9890.