Editor's Note

Editor’s Note: What happens when the levies break homeowners

An argument for seriously considering doing something about the dreaded property tax.

Aerial drone view on the small town Kunkletown, Poconos, Pennsylvania, in the fall.

Aerial drone view on the small town Kunkletown, Poconos, Pennsylvania, in the fall. Alex Potemkin/Getty Images

When Queen Elizabeth II died last month, a surprising number of Americans seemed to celebrate her sudden death by posting nasty messages on social media, using her demise to damn an institution we broke away from hundreds of years ago. Yet, we in the U.S. still cling to one of Great Britain’s most deeply rooted traditions: property taxes. The origins of this particular tax date back to William the Conqueror in the 11th century, according to The Atlantic. At that time, nobles had to pay the king for the right to inhabit the king’s land; and in return, nobles received royal protection. Land was confiscated from nobles who failed to pay the king. 

A millennium later, this practice endures – democratically, more or less. Taxes are a necessary evil, but there should be a better way to pay for public education than through taxing someone’s property. It kind of undercuts the notion that a person’s home is their castle. Nearly three quarters of Americans say their home is their greatest asset, according to the American Advisors Group. 

For decades, lawmakers have been trying to reform the current system. Any push to kill the property tax has failed because public education needs a steady funding stream and neither side of the aisle can seem to come up with a sustainable source of replacement income. But this tax represents a serious burden on many Pennsylvanians, especially lower-income families and seniors, many of whom have long paid off their mortgages and are now “house-rich but cash-poor.” And when the tax bill arrives, those who are “cash poor” really feel the squeeze.

I like some suggestions offered up by third-party candidates featured in our cover story, such as eliminating the current property tax system via revenues from fossil fuel projects, proceeds from legalized recreational marijuana sales and expansion of gambling. These income streams could be used to pay for public education and allow people to retain ownership of their properties in the long term. There is also a Republican proposal being floated in Harrisburg to tax some retirement income as part of a major tax shift. Adopting one or more of these measures could provide some much-needed and much-deserved relief to homeowners in Pennsylvania.