Pa.’s System Obsolete
State lawmakers remain unwilling to modernize Pennsylvania’s obsolete system of local governance, so taxpayers will have to continue paying for the waste and inefficiency inherent in maintaining more than 5,000 units of local government. And in some counties that burden is compounded by politically cowardly county commissioners who refuse to conduct property reassessments to fairly distribute the tax burden. Nearby Lackawanna County, where commissioners politically have protected themselves at the expense of the public interest for more than 50 years, is among the worst offenders. Amid that political paralysis, state and local politicians at least should be willing to reduce the cost of tax collection itself. Pennsylvania has 67 counties, each with a tax office that, in the computer age, easily could collect all school, municipal and county taxes and distribute them accordingly. Instead, Pennsylvania’s “system” isn’t one. It is a mish-mash involving hundreds of tax collectors, who collect for one municipality or school district or local combinations of both. Contrast that with California, where the population is three times greater than in Pennsylvania. There, all property taxes are collected by 58 county tax collectors, at a costs tens of millions of dollars less than in Pennsylvania. And Pennsylvania has its own experience. It reduced the number of wage tax collectors from nearly 600 to just 69 a decade ago, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in collection costs. State Sen. Scott Martin, a Republican former county commissioner from Lancaster County, introduced a bill this year that would allow consolidation of property tax collection through voluntary cooperation of local and county governments. Good luck with that. The state should follow up the successful transition of wage tax collection to a rational system by mandating county-level collection of all property taxes. Doing so would make millions more dollars available each year for education and public services rather than administrative costs.