Reassessment halt falters in Pennsylvania Legislature

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HARRISBURG -- An attempt to halt court-ordered property reassessments again failed to gain traction in the state Capitol, after a provision to stop the processes in Allegheny and Washington counties seesawed in and out of a bill.

While the measure -- with a provision allowing counties to opt out of reassessments -- passed the state House of Representatives amid its budget-deadline votes, further action on property tax overhaul will be delayed at least until fall or, more likely, next session.

After the reassessment section was added to Senate Bill 1546 last week, it was stripped out a day later in the Senate Rules Committee, over objections from Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills.

His Republican counterpart, Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, of Delaware County, said including the option to stop reassessments in a bill that changes the oversight and duties of the State Tax Equalization Board was "constitutionally questionable." A majority of the panel ultimately agreed.

With the provision nixed, the bill passed the Senate with one negative vote and went back to the House for a final tally.

The alteration upset lawmakers along both sides of the aisle from Allegheny and Washington counties, which are battling court-ordered reassessments. Mr. Costa described it as a missed opportunity in the property tax reform debate.

"I'm extremely disappointed that the Senate Republicans would do this to Allegheny County," county Executive Rich Fitzgerald said in an interview. "They pulled a switcheroo late in the game and pulled the rug out from under us."

The one negative Senate vote came from Sen. John Pippy, a Moon Republican who announced his early retirement to accept a private sector position following Saturday's session.

"It was more a symbolic vote because of the frustration we've been having with the property tax reassessments in Allegheny County in particular," Mr. Pippy said. "The system itself is flawed. I was very frustrated we haven't been able to get resolution."

Last weekend's revision wasn't the first time the Senate has narrowed a provision regarding reassessment moratoriums. After similar language passed the House last year, it was limited by a Senate amendment to apply only to Washington County. That bill ultimately was vetoed by Gov. Tom Corbett.

Back in the House on Saturday night, Western Pennsylvania lawmakers decided to reinsert their original reassessment provision. They then sent the measure back to the Senate as it was before, with only three negative votes.

"The people back here are waiting for relief," said Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth. "This will be the fourth time we've passed it. If Pennsylvanians want to know where their property-tax relief is, it's sitting in the Senate."

Following Saturday's speedy legislative pingpong, though, it's unclear whether the bill will get another chance at approval before the new session begins in January. Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Mr. Pileggi, said the Senate is in the early stages of setting its fall agenda, and there are no specific plans yet for the measure.

electionspa - state

Harrisburg Bureau chief Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.


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