Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Pippy Unveils Bill to Protect Taxpayers - and reactions

First, the news release from the PA Senators that is a great example of barking up the wrong tree:
HARRISBURG -- With plans to reform of Allegheny County’s reassessment process bogged down once again, Senator John Pippy (R-37) and Rep. Mark Mustio (R-44) today unveiled legislation to protect taxpayers from being hit with extreme tax hikes following countywide reassessment.

The measure requires that following reassessment municipalities and school districts determine millage rates that are revenue-neutral compared to the previous year. To set a tax rate higher than the revenue-neutral rate, they would have to take a separate and specific vote in a public meeting.

A municipality or school district that violates the limitations would have to refund with interest the excess taxes paid by homeowners.

"This legislation protects taxpayers from extreme tax increases, and ensures that any tax hike that increases revenue following reassessment is done only after public deliberation and a vote," said Pippy. "It helps prevent huge jumps in tax bills that can tear apart a family budget, while providing municipalities and school districts with the latitude to cover legitimate expenses and emergencies."

"We have introduced this 'zero tolerance' legislation to force school districts, municipalities and Allegheny County to roll back their millage rates to the average increase for their respective jurisdictions," said Mustio. "While it does not completely prohibit local government officials from subsequently increasing taxes, it would give taxpayers some extra breathing room until comprehensive and effective school property tax reform is enacted at the state level."

The Second Class County Code permits a taxing body to institute a final tax rate up to five percent greater than the amount it levied on properties the year before. Under the proposed legislation, in cases of dire need -- to purchase new equipment related to public health and safety, for example -- a political subdivision may petition the court for approval to increase the millage rate beyond the five percent that was approved via public vote.

Calculating a "revenue-neutral" millage rate would exclude new construction and improvements to existing buildings.

Common Pleas Court ruled May 12 that Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato’s property assessments plan is illegal and would create more problems for the system.

"Property owners in Allegheny County are still reeling over the last reassessment, with no relief in sight," said Pippy. "The problem has generated many proposals and speeches. This legislation has an advantage over many of the other solutions in that it's both legal and doable."

"For the sake of the local economy and improving the overall quality of life in Allegheny County, our working families and senior citizens deserve the immediate relief that this legislation can provide,” said Mustio. “The real and irrevocable risk is doing nothing or continuing to preserve the status quo while more and more property owners are forced out of their homes due to property tax bills they can no longer afford to pay."

Of course Allegheny County is bogged down once again. We agree on that point. However, when it comes to matters on how to fix the mess, we don't agree.

If the goal is to help consumers, then help the consumer directly. In this case, the individual is the home owner, also known as the property owner. The new bill has a focus on a system at the municipal level and that is not what people care about. The bill does not go to the real source of the pain and problems.

When I get my tax bill, I don't read it and say, "Jeepers, I'm so happy that my school district isn't going to have a windfall this year." The ZERO level is NOT anything that the consumer is going to feel, notice, understand nor appreciate.

When the new tax bill arrives in a person's mail box, that new tax bill has to make sense to that person, that person's budget, the past bills and any changes from one bill to the next. This is a personal struggle. That is where the focus needs to be placed.

A person does NOT care about the sum of all bills throughout the school district.

Very few people care, for example, that the school district saw its average SAT score increase by 3 points. Rather, as a parent, I care about my kid's test results, not the collective. I determine if I'm doing the right thing with my child's education to stay in that situation or not.

Pennsylvania needs "assessment buffering." The new tax bill needs to be buffered with the past tax bill on a household basis.

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