Nearly a year after Gov. Tom Corbett vetoed a property tax reassessment exemption for only Washington County, an amendment that would have extended a temporary moratorium for all 67 counties was removed from a state Senate bill.
The moratorium amendment had been attached to Senate Bill 1546, the Community and Economic Development Enhancement Act, which passed the state House Saturday. However, the state Senate removed the amendment and returned the bill, prompting the House to again pass it with the moratorium attached. In the end, the bill stalled later that night without the Senate voting on the matter.
“Once again, the state Senate has surgically removed a key provision of this legislation that would have finally provided property tax relief to beleaguered taxpayers,” said state Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth, during a debate Saturday on the House floor.
In April, Saccone sponsored a standalone temporary moratorium, House Bill 2137, which contains language similar to Saturday’s amendment and unanimously passed the House by a vote of 189-0. State Reps. Jesse White, D-Cecil, and Brandon Neuman, D-North Strabane Township, both helped to spearhead the bill, which the Senate has yet to take up for a vote. All three worked together as part of a joint task force seeking to create a set of uniform standards for reassessing property values.
Reached by phone Thursday, Saccone said he is still trying to motivate the Senate to vote on the issue, which he called nonpartisan.
“If you’re against it, stand up and let the taxpayers know who you are,” he said.
Legislation relating to imposing a temporary moratorium on court-ordered property tax reassessments has appeared before the Senate four times, beginning with a Senate amendment aimed at granting an exemption to only Washington County that was vetoed by Corbett last July after he deemed it to be unconstitutional.
Saccone said House Bill 2137 and the Senate Bill 1546 amendment would provide moratoriums to all counties, and the Senate should let the court decide if it’s unconstitutional.
“People want this – they’re literally grabbing me and asking for relief,” he said.
White said the state Senate used the unconstitutionality argument for only legislation it didn’t like while adding its own moratorium amendment regarding gas drilling permits in Bucks and Montgomery counties Saturday.
“The hypocrisy of the two moves is unbelievable,” White said.
White said the Senate lacks a champion on the issue. He also said next year will be a disaster for Allegheny County taxpayers and Washington County isn’t far behind.
State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, said the consensus among a majority of Republican and a handful of Democratic state senators was that the counties they represent had already moved forward with reassessments under the existing system, so why cut other counties a break?
As for Washington County, the reassessment issue will be revisited in September when the Commonwealth Court will hear arguments on an appeal by the county, which was taken to court four years ago by Washington and McGuffey school districts to force a reassessment.