Over the past 20 years, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has toyed with tax reform.
We use the word "toyed," because for all of the on-again, off-again haggling, virtually nothing has come from it.
Perhaps this time.
The prevailing idea has always been the gradual phase-out of the property tax as the primary revenue source for local school districts, and, as such, the biggest bill most people pay in local taxes.
In theory, the problem has been fairly simple. The property tax is a regressive levy. That is, it is not related to a person's ability to pay. It is based on the value of real estate according to local property assessments and a rate set by the taxing body per dollar of valuation. Yes, people who live in mansions pay more than those who live in trailer parks.
However, the property tax doesn't take into account the ebb and flow of fortunes, especially the small ones.
Take the case of a couple, who at the time of retirement, owned a $150,000 home and had a combined annual income of $75,000. The husband and wife, both turn 65 and decide to retire, reducing their annual income by half. Yes, they figure, they can still live reasonably well on $37,500 a year. Their income taxes will be reduced accordingly, but not their property tax.
The husband dies; the widow's income drops even farther. The property tax stays the same. Sure, she receives a $250 property tax rebate from the state, but that's little help on a $3,000 property tax bill.
So, she must decide: Medicine or the house?
She might be able to stay in her home if her property tax was replaced by an income tax levied according to one's ability to pay.
The sticking point in all of the toying up to now has been how to do the conversion without sacrificing bottom-line revenue for the school districts and avoiding the suspicion that the conversion is simply another way to raise taxes.
On Monday, scores of citizen activists staged a rally to protest property taxes in the Pennsylvania Capitol.
If state lawmakers are paying attention - and we hope they are - they have a chance to accomplish something important where their predecessors have failed.