Monday, January 05, 2009

View from the bench

News is that the county had something of a setback on the legal front with the ruling that the 'drink tax' revenue can only be used for funding PAT and not other transit-related projects however defined. Not sure that ruling will stand on appeal, but for now it poses some interesting questions for the county. Some see this as a victory that will lead to the elimination of the tax. I am not sure there is anything in the ruling that says the excess revenues can't still go to the Port Authority. I am sure there are innumerable needs let alone potential shortfalls in state funding due to escalating revenue shortfalls in Harrisburg.

Given how effective the drink tax has been locally at collecting revenue without all that much displacement, it's conceivable that the state may look toward higher alcohol taxes as a means to fill their budget problems. That's just speculation, but statewide alcohol taxes don't suffer from the argument that folks are likely to drive consumers across county borders to make their purchases. Some near other states may buy alcohol elsewhere, but if PA's state run liquor distribution system isn't causing that already I am not sure more tax is going to all of a sudden create an exodus of bar patrons to WV, OH, or NY. If Allegheny County alone collected $44 million from the incremental drink and rental taxes even during a defined recession, a statewide version would cover a lot of that statewide budget gap all by itself.

But I am wondering if it going to be the year of the lawyer for the county, and I am an not talking about billboards at all. Some big legal rulings that are in the pipeline. An odd number of search engines hits here of late for terms mentioning Judge Wettick in one form or another. I am just wondering when the State Supreme Court is going to rule on the county's appeal of Judge Wettick's ruling that threw out the base year assessment system currently in place.

Is a ruling getting closer? That would be state-wide news and many counties are already fretting over potential reassessments. Even though Wettick's ruling was against Allegheny County's use of the base year system, if his ruling is validated by the supreme court it could force changes across the state. Tick toc.


Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

I am attempting, with my tiny brain, to figure out when we're likely to hear back from the Supreme Court already on this, based on the Court's published Internal Operating Procedures (PDF).

The case was argued on Sept. 10th. It sounds like justices take a tentative vote the next day, and assign the tentative majority opinion to one justice who has 90 days to write it and circulate it. Then other justices then get 40 days to write and circulate concurring or dissenting opinions. This brings us to about the third full week of January, that is, pretty soon.

Then all the opinions that have been in for at least 10 days are considered on the next List Day, which is the 1st Monday of each month unless it is a holiday, which could be Feb 2nd. That is unless one of the justices requests a 20 day hold along the way, which would put us instead at March 2nd. But as a matter of fact, 90+40+10 is cutting it so close to get in by Feb 2nd that I'm going to wager we'll be waiting until March 2nd.

Now, this is how they get you. If one of the concurring or dissenting opinions garners a majority of votes, the justice who wrote it gets another 30 days to turn that into the new tentative majority opinion, and I guess that cycle can be kept up forever. (However, there's another section that says if things have dragged on for a total of 150 days, they get listed separately by the Prothonotary as though to alert everybody, so a confluence of all possible delays is probably on the rare side.)

If I had to bet on the situation, given that it takes what sounds like 5 days after voting to get things reported to the Prothonatary, I'd say we should know something on Monday March 9th.

Disclaimers x1000.

Monday, January 05, 2009 10:01:00 PM  
Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

Of course, that's assuming all the scribbling justices take their maximum allotments of time, so maybe Feb 9th is more likely than March 9th. Point being, there should still be snow on the ground, if you get my drift.

Monday, January 05, 2009 10:24:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

hmm.. I suppose I could create another predictive market for it, either the timing or the result...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009 10:26:00 PM  
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