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Pennsylvania

Pennsylvanians take small wishful step toward tax relief

| Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, 8:03 a.m.
94-year-old Blakely, Pa., resident Louisa Bronson fills out a voting ballot onTuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, at the Blakely Hose Co. #2 in Blakely, Pa., during Election Day. (Butch Comegys/The Times & Tribune via AP)
94-year-old Blakely, Pa., resident Louisa Bronson fills out a voting ballot onTuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, at the Blakely Hose Co. #2 in Blakely, Pa., during Election Day. (Butch Comegys/The Times & Tribune via AP)

HARRISBURG — The constitutional amendment that Pennsylvania voters approved Tuesday could eventually lead to reductions in the state's heavy dependence on property taxes, but it is only a tiny step in that direction.

The amendment gives the General Assembly the authority to pass a law authorizing local governments to exclude up to the full value of residents' homes that they own from taxation.

The new language does not by itself change anything, however.

Local governments have had the ability for two decades to exclude up to half the median value of homes in their area from taxation.

Billions are collected every year through property taxes to fund public schools — and the amendment does not provide a way to make up for any cuts in that revenue.

It's a politically divisive topic that may prove a bigger challenge than it was to get tax-weary voters to approve the constitutional amendment.

At issue is the so-called “homestead exemption,” which lowers tax bills by reducing a home's value before the taxes are determined.

As the Pennsylvania School Boards Association put it, “the most that can be said at this point” is that lawmakers can “adopt legislation to provide additional options for property tax relief for residential property owners, likely with shifts in other tax and revenue sources to help fund the exclusions and replace the revenue needed for educational programs.”

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