Gary St. Fleur is running for mayor of Scranton, Penn., as a Libertarian.
Aug. 4 marked a major victory for tax-cutters, and especially taxpayers, when Judge James Gibbons sided with Libertarian mayoral candidate Gary St. Fleur and seven other Scranton, Penn., residents who filed a lawsuit against the city over excessive taxation.
The suit contends that the city of Scranton has been illegally taxing its residents by increasing local taxes past the limit imposed by the state’s Act 511, which places a cap on the amount of taxes that can be raised at the local level.
The cap is determined by taking the value of the properties within the municipality and multiplying them by 1.2 percent. The suit was filed against the city of Scranton on March 1 through a mandamus action that sought to force the government of Scranton to observe the cap and reduce taxes accordingly.
Scranton officials have argued that, because the city has a home-rule charter, it does not have to obey Act 511. Judge Gibbons, who oversaw the hearing, disagreed. In his eight-page ruling, he explained that Scranton’s home-rule charter is subservient to state law, and thus the cap on Act 511 taxes “cannot be superseded by the home rule charter law.”
This is a major win for the taxpayers of Scranton, who have been gouged by mounting taxes and fees from the cash-strapped Scranton government. St. Fleur has been adamant that Scranton taxes are far too high and that the city needs to file for bankruptcy.
“This victory confirms that Scranton financials are so dire that city officials have resorted to illegal taxation,” St. Fleur said. “It forces the city to confront the reality that they have run out of time and can no longer force taxpayers to bail out the city.”
St. Fleur contends there is virtually no recourse left except for the government to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, and that lowering taxes and spending across the board is the only way to save Scranton from its economic depression — a point that he raises in the “Save Scranton” blog that he publishes. Bankruptcy would lessen the city financial burdens and allow for substantial tax cuts.
St. Fleur has also initiated a ballot measure to force the city into bankruptcy. A Wells Fargo report from October 2016 explains that a 2014 audit of Scranton revealed $375 million in liabilities and $184 million in unfunded non-pension post-retirement benefits to government employees. To pay for excessive government employee perks, the city has sold various public assets, such as the sewer authority ($195 million), and has issued junk bonds.
Act 511 limits aggregate local taxes to 1.2 percent of the total valuation of real estate in the jurisdiction.
“Act 511 was written to protect citizens form excessive taxation,” St. Fleur explained. “If home values are plummeting, then that is a sure indication that the people are becoming poorer. It is unconscionable for the city council and mayor to continue raising taxes on an already impoverished people.”
St. Fleur has received significant media attention for his efforts in Scranton, Penn., as an activist and candidate. A recent Aug. 2 article in the Times-Tribune highlighted St. Fleur’s campaign his excitement to join the race.
“I’m glad to have the opportunity to talk to the people and express my ideas and make people aware to the fact that the city can be managed much better,” St. Fleur said in the Times-Tribune article.