Make It Harder, Not Easier, to Get Property Tax Exemptions

Rep. Mike Hanna nails it. The local property tax exemption for charitable organizations is already way too loose, and should become tighter.

Property-tax exemptions should be distributed about as easily as manhole covers are tossed about. If not, more of the tax burden falls on homeowners, who already are shouldering an unfair load of an unfair tax.

In some communities, nonprofits consume two-thirds of properties, and their tax-exempt status makes it impossible for local governments to levy fair taxes to pay for police and fire protection, schools and infrastructure.

Any proposal to tinker with our constitution should be viewed warily. However, the public-charities amendment is advancing without even a single public hearing.

Both the process and the policy are suspect. The amendment, I believe, would uphold an unfair system where large health-care organizations with multimillions of dollars in revenue are judged by the same standards as the local boys’ and girls’ club.

Thinking about the rationale for the exemption, the idea is that charitable services deserve exemption from taxes because they are providing public services at least equal to, or possibly better than what the government would otherwise spend that money on (police, public education, etc.)

We do want to encourage people to spend more on these services and their programmatic activities with the tax exemption. What we don’t want to do is create a perverse incentive for charitable organizations to gobble up a bunch of land. That does not make any sense.

Non-profits really should have to keep paying the portion of the property tax levied on land, and receive an exemption for operations. But we should also be tightening up the code so that giant hospital corporations like UPMC that are only technically organized as charities don’t get the tax-exempt classification.


Posted in Budget, Economic Development, Issues

Municipal Consolidation is About Capacity and Equity, Not Lower Taxes

There’s a reason that the local governments with highest per-capita costs in New Jersey are both the richest and the poorest. The richest areas want more and better services, and the poorest areas have increased need for the most expensive services (law enforcement and education, namely.) Both have high taxes. The rural areas with low taxes also have crap services.

The whole point of doing this isn’t really lowering taxes, it’s keeping taxes the same and getting more for your money, and also pulling rich suburbs into the city tax bases.

Horrifyingly, the vast majority of PA’s police officers are part-time and have just a few officers who don’t specialize in anything in particular – glorified mall cops, basically. If you had county police forces, a bunch of those cops could be full-time cops, and you could have different specialized units (homicide, drug enforcement, traffic), and more scheduling flexibility for trainings, vacations, etc.

And then there’s the equity selling point too – when you make Cherry Hill and other rich suburban areas throw in for more cops in Camden, you’ve essentially got a regional progressive tax and transfer scheme going. The authors of the new study linked at the top point out that savings tend to be limited since municipal taxes are a lot lower than school taxes, but that’s obviously an argument for school district consolidation too, not against municipal consolidation.

Totally get that tax cuts are the best political selling point for this stuff, but you know, if it doesn’t actually work out that way when people vote for consolidation, other places are going to figure that out and keep not voting for it.

“Get more value for the same money” or “hey remember, you’re liberals and like progressive taxes.”

Posted in Budget, Issues, Regional Politics, Social Services

Weird Arguments About Democrats and the South

What is with this urge to invent alternative theories to white working class blowback over the Civil Rights Act as an explanation for the total Republican takeover of the South? That’s what it was!

Posted in Elections, US House, US Senate

Never Forget: PA GOP Cut State’s Share of Education Spending from 44% to 33%

Democrats would have a much stronger rhetorical position in the education funding debate if they just dealt in simple percentages, and left Republicans to bore voters with tedious quibbling over the baseline and the raw spending numbers.

Thinking about it in terms of percentages, the story is much easier to tell.

The state’s share of education funding got up to around 44% by the end of the Rendell administration, and was supposed to keep increasing, as per the “Costing Out” study’s recommendations, which had some bipartisan political buy-in back then.

Then the 2010 shitwave happened, Republicans got full control of state government, and they cut the state share down to 32%. It bumped up a teensy bit to 33% in the last budget, but is still criminally low.

For context, the national average is about 48%, and Tom Wolf wants to take it up to 50%.

Posted in Budget, Education, Issues

What Accountability? Dermocrats Win Despite Inexplicable House Losses

Here’s how this whole caucus leadership thing works, since it looks like no Democrats can play this game.

You give somebody a job to do, and if they do a good job, you let them try it again. If they don’t do a good job, you let somebody else try. It’s not hard.

Posted in Elections, State House

PA Congressional Delegation Total Sausage Party Now

We have to do better.

Posted in Elections, US House

Blame Jay Paterno

After his failed bid for Lieutenant Governor, Jay Paterno decided that running for state Senate as a write-in was beneath Him, despite efforts to recruit him for the seat.

This deprived Democrats of a top-tier candidate to run against Senator Jake Corman, leaving the new Republican Senator majority leader to run unopposed for the 34th Senate district.

This was a potentially winnable seat for Democrats. Centre County turned out hard for Tom Wolf, and was one of the few places where Wolf might have had some coattails, had a Democrat with a famous name been on the ballot.

It was an awesome opportunity to snuff out a Republican rising star early in his political career, but Jay Paterno wanted to be a prissy biscuit about it. So, you know, fuck that guy.

Posted in Miscellany

Tea Party Garbageman is Your New Shadow Republican Majority Leader

State Senator Jake Corman, who has until just recently put on a more moderate milquetoast public face, was put forth by the right wing nuts as their choice for Senate majority leader, and yesterday the nuts won.

But don’t be fooled by his rural homecoming king looks and soothing timbre. Standing right behind him, jabbing him with a shank he found rooting around in the back of his garbage truck is Senator Scott Wagner, a tea person folk hero who still hasn’t quit his real calling as a garbageman.

Why Republicans are so taken with these kind of Joe the Plumber characters, I’ll never know. Here’s what Wagner has to say about his approach to governing:

“I know about government log jams,” Mullins said. “I’ve dealt with log jams all my life. When something is holding up the processes of our democracy, you’ve just got to get in there with a broom and clean out all that muck that’s been collecting. Just take the stick end of a broom to it and scrape out all that gunk—all that dirt and grease and hair and gristle and chunks of Lord-knows-what, beaks and feet and other what-have-you.”

Oh whoops, looks like I had a quote from The Onion on my clipboard. Here is a not-altogether-different quote from Scott Wagner:

“I’m a full-service senator and garbage man. I know where to get you just about anything,” Wagner said. “I’m a pretty resourceful guy. I tell people in the waste business, if you need a donkey, we’ll get you a donkey.”

Have a nice day!

Posted in Elections, State Senate

The Next Republican Climate Argument

Republicans are extra angry about this new US-China climate deal, because the only argument they had left that was taken seriously among respectable company was that unilateral US action was pointless if the big polluters in the developing world weren’t also going to take action. Now that argument is dead.

What’ll they say next? I’ve been waiting for the day when the argument abruptly changes from pure denial to pure defeatism.

The day Republican politicians start admitting man-made climate change is real the argument will shift to that it’s just too late to do anything about it.

Itsahoaxitsahoaxitsahoax, it’s real and we’re screwed so don’t try.

Posted in Energy, Environment

Tom Corbett’s Environmental Legacy: 500+ Open-Air Frackwater Ponds

In 2005, Pennsylvania had 11 frack water pits. Just eight years later, aerial maps show that number has jumped to 529. It’s unclear how many of these sites store fresh water used for fracking, and how many store the toxic wastewater that results from oil and gas drilling operations.

Also, StateImpact says state government doesn’t keep track of them. Tom Wolf has a huge, huge mess to clean up.

Screen shot 2014-11-12 at 7.41.02 AM

Posted in Miscellany