Midstate lawmaker pushing property tax elimination, other cost-cutting reforms

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Rep. Frank Ryan (R-Lebanon) is a fresh face in the state legislature.

But the 66-year-old is a bit more grizzled in life. He spent 41 years in the United States Marine Corps, retiring as a colonel. He did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a certified public accountant who laughs that he’s spent 30 years trying to keep companies out of bankruptcy.

The CPA warns that PA is running out of time to fix its finances.

“That’s two to four years from now before we have to turn this ship completely or the game’s over,” Ryan said from his Capitol office Monday.

The retired Marine colonel has what he calls a financial rescue plan and he’s on a mission to implement it.

“We can fix this, but it requires all of us to be realistic,” he said.

Realistic means sacrifices by all. He wants state government operations to take a 10-percent cut. He insists that’s not a cut to programs that citizens rely on but rather the bureaucratic cost of administering those programs.

“We have to live on the same type of fiscal diet that every other Pennsylvanian has to do,” he said.

Job one for Ryan’s plan is reining in government spending.

He is also working Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to get the federal government to pick up more of the tab for special needs children and special education. He insists the feds mandate certain costs but don’t fairly and properly fund them.

He also wants the state’s auditor general and inspector general to have more power when it comes to rooting out waste and abuse. He estimates that combined they’d find $3 billion, money that he’d then redirect toward Pennsylvania’s pension crisis.

His plan also includes the elimination of school property taxes, which he calls theft.

“How about if we put a four-percent tax on your retirement fund annually?” Ryan asked rhetorically. “Everyone would scream, ‘you can’t possibly do that.’ Well, that’s what we’re doing to your home.”

Ryan supports House and Senate bills 76, which have kicked around the legislature for years unsuccessfully. They’d shift the tax burden. Sales taxes would be hiked from 6 to 7 percent and exemptions reduced. The personal income tax would be increased from the current 3.07 percent to 4.95 percent.

The problem, for many, is that the state would get all the money and the state would then distribute all the money.

“It’s going to be out of your hands at the local level,” said Steve Robinson, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association which opposes the plan. “If you handed it over to the state, you hand it over to the bureaucrats in Harrisburg,”

Even worse than losing control, the PSBA worries about losing the steady and stable revenue of property taxes.

“None of us like taxes but it’s a very stable tax,” Robinson said. “It does not have the same fluctuation that the sales tax has in a down economy. It’s a more predictable way for schools to fund student’s education.”

But Ryan is restless and his energy appears boundless. From March to August 2014, he walked across the country from San Diego to Ocean City, Maryland, to raise money and awareness for children with disabilities. It was a long journey and he understands pushing through property tax elimination may be even longer.

It’s been tried before.

It has failed before.

“It has been a long journey and I’m gonna win that battle, by the way,” Ryan said with his trademark smile and enthusiasm.

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