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PHILADELPHIA-In opening a historic special session to tackle property tax reform this week, Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker asked the General Assembly not to “rush it.” Schweiker asked the General Assembly to address affordability, long-term savings, local taxpayer control, among other issues.

“Ben Franklin put it best: Haste makes waste,” Schweiker says. “Let’s do this right, not fast. Don’t worry about arbitrary deadlines. I know your work in this General Assembly will end on Nov. 30. But as you are all aware, that work can continue in January.”

Senior citizens reportedly are losing their homes because they cannot pay the property taxes on them, and low- and middle-income homeowners are having similar troubles meeting their property tax obligations.

Commercial property owners are likewise feeling the tax pinch, and not just from property taxes but also from use and occupancy taxes, says John McDermott, regional manager for Sperry Van Ness, a commercial real estate firm which has been expanding its operations here.

“Philadelphia is one of the most heavily taxed cities in the country,” McDermott says.

Local property taxes have been rising as the state’s share of school funding has dropped.

A recent Keystone Research Group report calls for more state funding for education to help stem the flight of population from overtaxed communities with cash-poor schools. More aid from the state would enable cuts to be made in local property taxes and help finance better schools in middle- and low-income school districts.

Schweiker says skyrocketing investments in public education has helped create this tax burden.

“That’s why I’m proposing a taxpayer protection cap on spending increases for school districts,” Schweiker says. “If a district wants to increase spending higher than the cost-of-living with enrollment increases factored in, they must first secure the approval of their constituents to do so.”

That said, education advocates fear that reform will come at the expense of students.

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