When Pennsylvanians talk about "property tax reform," what they really mean is "school funding reform."
Municipal and county taxes aren't killing them -- school property taxes are.
Fix the horrendous school funding formula, and the burden on many homeowners would be eased.
That's what many local school district business managers have been saying for years.
The York Dispatch asked three of those business managers to vet its analysis of House Bill 2230, state Rep. Seth Grove's plan to lower property taxes by at least 30 percent using a mix of increased earned income taxes and sales taxes.
It turns out reporter Christina Kauffman's read of the bill was right on the money -- as in, York County homeowners would need a lot more of it to pay their school taxes.
If school property taxes decreased by 30 percent, the average York County property owner would save between $457 and $1,218, depending on the school district in which they live.
But once the earned income tax is raised, a household of two people both earning the average yearly income in their school district and living in an average home in their school district would see net loss of between $293 and $1,754 per year.
Part of the problem: While businesses would get the property tax break, they don't actually pay earned income taxes. That means homeowners' earned income taxes would go up even higher to make up the difference.
Yet even if businesses were excluded from the property tax break -- and it's not clear they can be -- the net loss for the average two-income family would be between $140 and $1,227, depending on the school district.
Still, Grove deserves a lot of credit for at least trying to address the issue. The Dover Republican has pulled his bill while he works on the problem of exempting businesses from the property tax break.
House Bill 1776 also has been tabled. That's the plan that would eliminate property taxes altogether, replacing school funding with an increased and expanded sales tax.
Unfortunately the revenue from a beefed up sales tax falls about $9 billion short of what property taxes now raise. Hearings might be held this summer to address the shortfall.
Which brings us back to the district business managers who examined the analysis of Grove's bill.
Their message was the same: The problem is too big to be solved with only a tax shift -- even if legislators could find a workable one.
The state also needs to correct the flawed school funding system under which some school districts receive a higher amount of funding per student than others.
The issue there is the flawed formula actually benefits some school districts, so legislators in those areas don't support a change that would treat everyone equally, Grove said.
There is a solution -- one that's worked in other states.
"People might start to sue," said Wayne McCullough, district director of administrative services at Southern York School District.
Grove, one of the few legislators trying to fix this mess, wholeheartedly supports that idea.
He said he tells taxpayers groups that all the time, and "I'm dead serious."
Given the magnitude of the problem and the lack of will or ability of our lawmakers to solve it, we think Grove's right.
It's time for taxpayers to take this to a whole new level.