Harrisburg’s inaction on property tax reform frustrates Toohil


July 27, 2013

HAZLETON — Day after day, state Rep. Tarah Toohil says she hears the same questions from constituents in her Hazleton-area district: “When is Harrisburg going to eliminate property taxes?”

She wishes she had an answer for them, she says, but for many reasons she just keeps telling them she knows it’s important to them and she hopes it will be addressed soon.

While some fellow legislators believe that day is coming, perhaps as early as this session, Toohil doesn’t have that same optimism.

“All of the other Harrisburg issues seem to take precedent and this always seems to get put on the back burner,” said Toohil, R-Butler Township, who was elected in 2010 after a door-to-door grassroots campaign in which she heard from plenty of residents about the hardships of making ends meet with the ever-rising property taxes.

Those frustrations have only grown louder since she’s been elected.

While Toohil is a Republican, she said some of the blame for not getting anything accomplished rests on the shoulders of fellow conservatives who took “no-tax pledges.”

“I am not one of them,” she noted.

Because some elected officials did, including Gov. Tom Corbett, they’re apprehensive about raising the sales tax or personal income tax or any other tax to generate the revenue required to eliminate property taxes to pay for public education, she said.

Toohil said that the entire real estate tax system is outdated, but it’s also so intertwined in the state’s culture that to change it now would take a lot of cooperation among legislators that would require assurances that enough money would be generated to pay for education under the new system.

“It’s such a complicated issue,” Toohil said. “It’s been ignored and it doesn’t ever get talked about in Harrisburg, but it comes up day to day with the people that walk into my office.”

She co-sponsored a House bill that would increase some taxes to offset the property taxes to fund education, she said. While she might not agree with everything the bill calls for, she wants it to be brought to the House floor for discussion so common ground can be found and the premise of property tax reform or elimination can become reality.

“It’s gaining traction, but I don’t think it’s there yet,” said Toohil. “The more we can talk about it and bring attention to it, the better chance we have of finally making progress.”