Oped: Property rights have historic significance

Sen. Mike Folmer
48th Senate District

I’m proud to support Sen. David Argall’s Senate Bill 76 to eliminate school property taxes because no tax should have the power to leave you homeless.

State Sen. Mike Folmer reads Article 1, Section 2 of the United States Constitution while speaking with the York Dispatch Editorial Board at the office in West Manchester Township, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Opponents want a “conversation” on property taxes — even though history is filled with such discussions.

In 1215, English citizens fought for property rights by forcing King John to sign the Magna Carta to end royal abuses — including for the first time protecting property rights. Our country’s founding 561 years later mirrors these protections for life, liberty and property.

In 1689, English philosopher John Locke highlighted the importance of property: “being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

Thomas Jefferson rephrased Locke’s words in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Like Pennsylvania’s Constitution, which would follow, Jefferson added: “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.”

These principles helped spur the 1787 Constitutional Convention. A year earlier, Daniel Shays, a Continental Army and Bunker Hill veteran deep in debt and fearing seizure of his farm, joined with his neighbors and fellow veterans to protect their properties, leading George Washington to write: “If three years ago any person had told me that at this day, I should see such a formidable rebellion against the laws and constitutions of our own making as now appears I should have thought him a bedlamite — a fit subject for a madhouse.”

Shay’s Rebellion failed, but protecting property became a goal of the Constitutional Convention and when property wasn’t adequately protected by the proposed Constitution, it led to the Fifth Amendment: “No person ... shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

Property rights were again strengthened after the Civil War with the 14th Amendment: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

In 1874, Pennsylvania’s Constitution added similar protections, which remain today: “All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent and indefeasible rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property and reputation, and of pursuing their own happiness.”

Property owners would still pay school taxes for years under relief bill

We’ve had many conversations on property. Meanwhile, school property taxes have risen while the base has shrunk, hurting young people seeking first homes and senior citizens fighting to stay in theirs.

Attempts have been made to reduce property tax burdens, but all have fallen short. There’s just one bill providing for the total elimination of school property taxes: SB 76.

It’s time to either support this measure or offer an alternative that gets to the much needed and long overdue goal of total elimination of school property taxes because no tax should have the power to leave you homeless.

— State Sen. Mike Folmer represents the 48th Senate District in the Pennsylvania State Legislature. Reach him at www.senatorfolmer.com.