Legislative Moratorium on Assessments Overrides Constitution

Legislative Moratorium on Assessments Overrides Constitution

The principal effect of the moratorium on re-assessments now working its way through the Senate after having passed in the House will be to set aside an important constitutional provision known as the Uniformity Clause. By ordering a stop to court ordered re-assessments until some future unknown date, the Legislature will overturn a Supreme Court ruling that the base year as used in Allegheny County is unconstitutional. Thus, the legislation as written effectively amends the constitution statutorily rather than through the prescribed amendment process contained in the constitution.

Another consequence of the legislation will be to deprive property owners from suing a county wherein a property is located and taxes are paid on the grounds that the assessment system violates the Uniformity Clause. That amounts to legislative denial of due process.

Of course, this should be enough to give the Legislature pause before it proceeds, but it apparently won’t.

The Legislature says it wants the moratorium so that it can reform the state’s assessment regulations. The problem is the Legislature has no credibility on this point. They have had decades to fix the problem and have done nothing until forced by a Supreme Court ruling, which they now want to overturn. Here’s the crux of the situation. Any legislative reform of assessments will have to call for a re-assessment in counties that are far out of line on measurements of accuracy of assessments in order to satisfy the Uniformity Clause requirement and move the state into the 20th century vis-à-vis assessment.

The irony is that the Legislature is asking for time to write a bill that mandates re-assessments. They will meet the same resistance from folks afraid of a re-assessment and who are now screaming at them to stop court ordered re-assessments. Of course, the wink-wink, nod-nod understanding is that no legislation requiring re-assessments will be forthcoming any time soon. Thus, the state will continue with a constitutional crisis and ever worsening assessment inequities that are effectively locked in place.