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It's possible that soon, Pennsylvanians 60 and older crushed by soaring local property taxes will be able to have them reduced by "volunteering" to work at a local school to earn property tax credits. I'm not really sure how it counts as "volunteering" if you're working for money, but that's how they're selling it. And if that's not sounding like a depraved callback to pre-New Deal America yet, Republican State Representatives are bragging that the hourly rate of tax credits earned will amount to less than minimum wage.

In Pennsylvania, as funding for public schools continues to be slashed at the state level, local property taxes have been rising to make up the lost money. When I spent hour after hour knocking on doors as a Democratic candidate for Stroud Township Auditor in 2011, I met many seniors struggling to keep up with rapidly rising property taxes with relatively stagnant Social Security checks. It's a huge issue, and there's a fairly large-scale (if problematic) proposal to eliminate property taxes in PA completely because this problem is so wide-spread.

Pennsylvania House Bill 658, which would allow for the creation of Senior Local Tax Reduction Incentive Volunteer Exchange Programs across the state, passed on March 20th. It would be up to each school district to establish their own unique Senior Local Tax Reduction Incentive Volunteer Exchange Program, with some restrictions. From the law:

Section 4. ... (b) Value of tax credit.--The rate of real property tax credit for senior volunteers shall be established by the school district and may not exceed the total amount of real property taxes that are owed.

(c)  Services.--The types of services that participants provide through a program must enhance the academic program of the school districts district.

...

Section 6.  Existing job positions.

This program shall not replace or supplant existing job positions in a school district.

Section 7.  Funding.

School districts may seek private and public funding sources to support a program.

Every school with a Senior Local Tax Reduction Incentive Volunteer Exchange Program will get to decide what the hourly rate will be for seniors working for property tax credits. And it's not just my speculation that they could be making less than minimum wage, a number of Republicans supporting the bill who evidently haven't read it thoroughly enough have claimed that it's a blanket rate of $5 per hour, about two-thirds of the federal minimum wage. Perversely, that's apparently their idea of something to brag about.

It will also be up to individual school districts to decide what jobs will be available to seniors through this program. At least it's mandatory that they'll be doing extra work so school districts can't fire a bunch of people to replace them with seniors making less than minimum wage. But when that's the kind of positive side you're looking at, you know you're in trouble.

Section 7 is the real killer because it's the only part of the legislation that makes any reference to funding for these projects. That means school districts won't be getting funds from the state to pay for these tax credits, they'll have to find the funding themselves. Now, where are the schools supposed to get that funding? If the schools had this extra funding lying around, property taxes wouldn't be going up so much to pay for them in the first place. This idea isn't just unseemly, but also impractical.

I learned about this legislation from a flyer I got at a school board debate hosted by a local tea party group:

PA HB 658 flyer front
PA HB 658 flyer back
Especially given the pictures on it, I thought it was fairly obviously tongue-in-cheek, whoever made it couldn't really support the bill. Those people aren't looking too cheery there. The idea is being mocked, and deservedly so. This made it all the more hilarious when, after the debate ended, the moderator drew attention to the flyer to praise how great the idea was. Property taxes will be reduced! The younger generation will learn traditional values from the older generation! Get ready to put your noses back to the grindstone grandma and grandpa, it's a tea party panacea! After the few left-wingers in the room exchanged looks of disbelief, eventually a couple of the tea party folks got to the part about the lack of funding for the tax credits and realized their celebration was premature. This bill also also passed the PA House in their previous session, but never passed the PA Senate. Let's hope for a repeat performance.

Originally posted to ProgressivePatriotPA on Thu Mar 28, 2013 at 08:16 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions, DKos Pennsylvania, and Teachers Lounge.

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