State Rep. Marty Causer, R-Turtlepoint, is proposing some legislation that would benefit rural Pennsylvania by calling for tax fairness.
<span style="font-weight: bold">On Wednesday, Causer reintroduced legislation that would raise the payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) amount for state-owned lands from $3.60 an acre to $6 an acre; and would call for 20 percent of total revenue from the sale of timber, oil and natural gas on most state-owned land to be returned to local governments.</span>
“These are bills that can help the region significantly,” Causer said. “I worked on the issue back in 2006. That’s the last time we increased the PILT. It seems to me it’s time to provide an increase. It could really help the local governments a lot.”
Causer said both bills would provide significant revenue for struggling municipalities, which in this region suffer from a lack of tax dollars because of huge amounts of state-owned land.
“The Commonwealth is one of the largest land owners in the region and it is not paying its fair share,” he said. “All the rest of us have to pick up the tab.”
The Pennsylvania State Land Tax Fairness Coalition is behind the effort, Causer explained. The coalition’s members include Potter County Commissioner Paul Heimel and Cameron County Commissioner Phil Jones.
“We appreciate Representative Causer continuing his strong support for our mission,” Heimel said Wednesday night. <span style="font-weight: bold">“Several other House members, as well as state Senator Joe Scarnati, have pledged their support.</span> Our goal now is to amass enough support in both chambers of the General Assembly to pass these bills, whether independently or as part of a broader tax reform package.”
Heimel explained this issue isn’t one that pits rural Pennsylvania against the larger urban areas of the state, like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
“This is more a matter of basic fairness,” Heimel said. “We have found that when lawmakers from counties where there is not much tax-exempt state-owned land see our maps demonstrating the way our tax base is gutted, they are more supportive of our plight.”
<span style="font-weight: bold">The measures are being supported by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.</span>
“These are voices that should speak loudly in Harrisburg, since they represent every county, township and school district in the state,” Heimel said. “So, we have a very strong case to make in terms of fairness and in terms of this being the will of the people. But we know that this is going to be an uphill battle, so we’re going to redouble our efforts with more one-on-one contacts with lawmakers, more maps and other exhibits, and more attention paid to making our coalition even stronger with additional partners.”
Describing what the impact of just one bill could be, Causer said the increase in PILT would be an additional $9 million annually paid into municipal coffers.
<span style="font-weight: bold">The PILT funds now come from several sources, he explained. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the state Game Commission each pay $1.20 an acre from the agencies budgets, while the remaining $2.40 per acre comes from gaming revenue.
Where the increase would come from would be subject to negotiation, he said. “Certainly oil and gas revenue would be one potential source.”</span>
He added, “The agencies certainly would not support (an increase in PILT). But the county governments are struggling and the state agencies are continuing to buy up more land. The agencies would moan and groan about paying more, but at the same time, they are the ones buying up the land.
<span style="font-weight: bold">“Cry me a river,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t have much sympathy for the agencies.</span> This is a fairness issue. If the state continues to buy up land, they can continue to pay PILT to help struggling municipalities.
“I don’t think we need any more government land,” Causer added. “If we’re going to have it, the government should pay a fair share to bring some relief to our local taxpayers.”
The second measure would re-route some funds the state already collects back to the municipalities from where resources are harvested.
“The two bills work together,” Causer said.
<span style="font-weight: bold">The second, he explained, “would provide for 20 percent of the royalties and income that come off the state land to be sent back to local municipalities. Now, all timber revenue, oil and gas revenue and royalties all go to the state government.
“Under this legislation, 20 percent would be distributed back to local governments,” Causer said.</span>
The legislator admitted that his bills will likely be modified as they move forward in consideration, but said, “I thought this was a reasonable starting point.”
More about the tax fairness coalition’s fight can be found on its website, pastatelandtaxfairness.com.