Ballot measure will decide if jurisdictions can end property taxes

Credit: Paola Mathus/ Credit: Paola Mathus/

Pennsylvania voters will decide this Election Day whether or not to move forward with efforts to allow counties, cities, and school districts to stop collecting property taxes. Officially called the “Pennsylvania Allow Local Taxing Authorities to Exempt Full Value of Homestead Amendment,” the ballot measure would only be the first step toward lower property taxes. If the amendment passes, the Pennsylvania legislature would then be constitutionally permitted to pass a law allowing local jurisdictions to end property taxes. And if such a law were enacted, some counties, cities, and school districts may choose to lower or eliminate property taxes.

Advocates of the ballot measure point out that property taxes are a burden for many Pennsylvanian homeowners, and are concerned that under current law, continued failure to pay property taxes could result in someone losing their home. The measure has large bipartisan support in the state legislature, but there are critics of the effort. Republican State Senator Michele Brooks has expressed concerns that the loss of revenue from property taxes would have to be made up by raising income, sales, or other taxes. Relatedly, the Philadelphia Daily News editorial board pointed out that some Pennsylvanians could end up paying more in taxes depending on their personal situation and how the tax code is adjusted in response to the amendment.

It is difficult to predict how the amendment would affect Carnegie Mellon University students. The ballot measure might not lead to any tax changes even if it passes, but if it does, then taxes on Pittsburgh homes and apartments would be lowered. This could potentially lead to Carnegie Mellon students who live off campus paying lower rents, but Carnegie Mellon itself already does not pay property taxes because it is a tax-exempt non-profit organization.

If lower property taxes are met with higher income or sales taxes, that could have negative effects on Carnegie Mellon students. Making it more affordable to live in Pittsburgh could attract good professors and even bring jobs to the city, but raising income and sales taxes would have the opposite effect. And it is unclear how Carnegie Mellon would respond to tax changes in terms of faculty and staff pay and tuition costs.

On Nov. 7, Pennsylvania voters (including many Carnegie Mellon students, faculty, and staff) will decide whether or not to approve the constitutional amendment.