Send this reassessment circus packing

Send this reassessment circus packing

An evenly divided Pennsylvania Supreme Court – so divided because of a vacancy – has deadlocked 3-3 in attempting to decide the legality of the so-called “newcomers’ tax” on recently sold homes.

That tie means the practice will be allowed to continue. For now.

Taxing authorities – primarily school districts — say they’ve been forced to take matters into their own hands and perform what some call “spot assessments” because their respective counties have failed to regularly perform property reassessments.

But critics steadfastly contend the practice violates the taxation uniformity clause of the state Constitution. And it does.

This high court deadlock arose out of Berks County lawsuit. That county  has not conducted a property reassessment since 1994.

So, surely, this will be the final impetus in a long string of impetus to correct the gross inequity that, while attempting to make newly sold properties pay an accurate and fair share of real estate-based school taxes, has created the perversion of two comparable – if not exact – properties having widely – if not wildly – different tax bills.

Of course, Allegheny County has been attempting to navigate the rocky fjords of the reassessment mess for years. Or perhaps the better word would be “avoid.”

The current legal wrangling involves a dispute over the common level ratio (CLR) used to value properties for taxation purposes. That, in lieu of regular reassessments.

Allegheny County has not reassessed properties for a decade, disingenuously claiming that it would result in massively higher tax bills for most properties and lead to instability and unpredictability in the process, thus sending a poor message to anyone thinking of moving to the county, residents and businesses.

It is, of course, a red herring the size of a whale. Anti-windfall provisions would prevent the latter and greater stability and predictability would result with a regular reassessment regimen. Those underassessed would be forced to pay the proper amount of property taxes; those overassessed (thus, improperly paying the burden of the underassessed) certainly would see relief.

As we’ve noted countless times, this long-running circus could be shut down if the state Legislature would do its constitutional duty and mandate that every Pennsylvania county conduct regular reassessments. (We prefer every three years.)

This steadfast refusal by these recidivist constitutional scofflaws should be legally actionable. And perhaps that’s going to be the only way to restore the rule of law to the process – a class-action lawsuit against the General Assembly.

Sans that, however, the respective counties that have refused to perform regular assessments – and for pure political expediency – should be ashamed of themselves.

For even without a legislative mandate enabling the constitutional mandate, those counties could act on their own. That so many have not – that so many also have chosen to firmly plant their thumbs to their noses and furiously waggle their fingers at the Pennsylvania Constitution – also should not be lost on the courts.

As it was not a decade ago in Allegheny County.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (