Confusing property tax ballot question explained

It is a single paragraph on Tuesday’s ballot for voters to decide.

The words are confusing.

It’s followed by a four-paragraph “plain English explanation” which in plain English is still complicated and confusing but nonetheless serious.

“Anything that has to do with amending our constitution is important and should not be taken lightly,” said Rep. Dave Maloney (R-Berks), who pushed the proposal through two consecutive sessions of the legislature and into the ballot box.

Maloney certainly has a reverence for constitutional amendments. He has several ballot questions from 1909 framed on the wall of his Capitol office. He says this year’s ballot question would merely give lawmakers the authority to craft a plan to eliminate property taxes for primary residences, not commercial properties or second homes.

“To change the way in which we would be able to possibly protect our homes from the tax man,” said Maloney, noting that the constitution currently only allows for a 50 percent reduction in property taxes, not 100 percent elimination.

But the confusing question could be confusing to voters.

“They’re gonna think, ‘Oh yeah, I’m gonna support that because it’s gonna eliminate my homeowner property taxes,'” Cumberland County Commissioner Jim Hertzler said. “That’s just not the case.”

It would be a first step, however. A yes vote means you want the legislature to move ahead with a plan to eventually get rid of property taxes. That would really be a tax shift because it would have to likely hike income and sales taxes to offset the money lost in property tax elimination.

“The question behind the question is how, and whether or when the General Assembly will act to implement the will of the people if they approve this constitutional amendment on Tuesday,” Hertzler said.

A no vote either means you’re fine with the current system, the status quo, or you don’t trust the General Assembly to come up with a fairer form of taxation or to fairly dole out the money once it does.

“If the voters say no, I think it’s back to the drawing board,” Hertzler said.

Lawmakers, it should be noted, have been at the property tax elimination drawing board for four decades.

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