Sunday, August 24, 2008

Wettick Waiting (not much longer?)

Many people have forgotten the legal case in which Judge Wettick ruled against the constitutionality of the base year assessment system presently in use for property assessments in Allegheny County. It also happens to be the system in use throughout most of the rest of the state.

Per the State Supreme Court docket for the case, it looks to me like oral arguments in the base year assessment appeal were finally slated for scheduling last month. Maybe I missed something in the local news, but I see no mention of the case's status anywhere. This is big big big news! Consider that if Judge Wettick’s ruling is affirmed then it could throw asunder the basis of local public finance in just about every county, municipality and in particular every school district across the state. I really am befuddled why it has not received more coverage than it has. not just here, but elsewhere in the state.

I have discussed some of the oddities of local property assessment history in the past here, here, and here among other places. So I'll skip the history lesson which really is important though in understanding how we got to this point.

I will leave the legal merits for other to argue over for the moment, but I myself would be incredulous that the supreme court would rule in a way that would upset decades (arguably centuries since the basis of property tax collection in Pennsylvania goes back to the 17th century I do believe) of public finance status quo. At the same time I am told that Judge Wettick has never been overruled on appeal. I can't confirm that myself. How those things balance out, or whether they matter at all I dunno.

Property assessment a single policy issue that affects nearly everyone in Pennsylvania. Every homeowner in the state could see vastly different tax (some higher but some lower) than they have received for decades in some cases. Even if you are not a property owner, nearly every school district and municipality in the state relies on property taxes and could see a vastly different tax base if statewide mass reassessments were mandated. And while this would all be seminal for Pennsylvania, it really is the standard elsewhere. What is ironic is that for how lax Ohio has been at regulating subprime loans and predatory lending to the degree that global financial markets have been impacted, they have been great at implementing property assessment standards. Ohio properties must be assessed every 6 years I do believe, thus inhibiting the type of asymmetries that define property assessment across Pennsylvania.

and I won't even begin to address the political implications of all of this.. There is going to be a governor's race not too long in the future. Could this be issue number one in that race? Depends on what the Supreme court eventually decides. Given the glacial pace of the entire assessment case, even with an expedited appeal to the supreme court, I can't begin to predict when that final ruling will come.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oral Arguments are scheduled for September 10, 2008 (bottom of p. 4). The opinion should be published some time next spring, then.

Monday, August 25, 2008 8:45:00 PM  

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