More ‘faux nibbling’ on property tax reform

More ‘faux nibbling’ on property tax reform

Had Allegheny County and state “leaders” done the right thing, none of this mess would be haunting property owners.

“This mess” is the result of pols doing what pols do best – kicking cans down the road of political expediency and whistling past the graveyard (loudly) as they turn the state Constitution into a dead letter.

“This mess”? The abject failure to implement and mandate regular property tax reassessments.

The latest round in this failure of government to govern came Thursday last when an Allegheny County judge, as the Post-Gazette reported it, “ordered a huge reduction — from 81.1% to 63.53% — in the number to be used in 2022 appeal hearings to determine the value at which a property will be taxed.”

Per the P-G’s Mark Belko:

“The drop in the common level ratio could provide some relief for thousands of property owners who have been hit with assessment appeals filed by school districts and municipalities after buying homes in Allegheny County. The appeals, which seek to raise the assessment closer to the new sales price, are often derided as a newcomers’ tax.

“Before the change, a home valued at $100,000 in an appeal would be taxed at $81,100 using the 81.1% common level ratio.”

But as Jake Haulk, president-emeritus of the Allegheny Institute, documented (in Policy Brief, Vol. 22, No. 27), while the “common level ratio,” or CLR, “can be used to remove severe inequities, it is not an ideal—or even nearly ideal—solution to achieving uniformity in taxation as required by the Pennsylvania Constitution.”

The only answer – in the past, now and in the future – to restore “equity” to the property taxation system is to embrace systematic and precise countywide assessments on a regular basis—preferably every three years—that will go a very long way in reducing unfairness and those costly and time-consuming appeals.

Yet pols of just about every stripe and jurisdiction continue to fail their charge and thumb their noses at the rule of law.

Back to Haulk, a Ph.D. economist, who for decades has been bird-dogging what’s clearly an unconstitutional implementation of the property tax system:

“The Pennsylvania Legislature has known of the property tax problem for a long time,” he says. “But when presented with studies that say the state needs to require regular reevaluations of properties, it cannot even bring itself to hold hearings.

“It thus condemns property owners to fend for themselves at considerable expense to challenge wrongful assessments and rewards those who are perennially under assessed,” the think tank scholar says.

It is, of course, a gross violation of Article VIII, Section 1, of the Pennsylvania Constitution:

All taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the authority levying the tax and shall be levied and collected under general laws.

Yet those who know better continue to skate on the thinnest of legal ice.

“Still, if the Legislature will not require regular property valuation updates, counties could do it themselves,” Haulk reminded in his July white paper. “But it takes the will to do the right thing rather than the politically expedient thing.”

Don’t hold your breath. And until the state Legislature acts, half-measure court actions – let’s call it faux nibbling reform — and political nose-thumbing will continue to run amok.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).