State Reps. Jesse White, Brandon Neuman and Peter J. Daley II this week criticized House Republican leaders for not bringing up legislation (S.B. 1546) that would enact changes in the way property values are reassessed in the commonwealth.
The bill, which could have gone to Gov. Tom Corbett for his signature Wednesday night, would incorporate four major changes to create uniform standards for reassessing property values, as recommended in the Property Reassessment Reform Task Force's recent report.
The lawmakers said that while language in the bill that would have temporarily halted court-ordered countywide property reassessments was stripped by the state Senate, the reforms that were included would have helped to prevent “backdoor” property tax increases and "level the playing field across the commonwealth when counties reassess."
However, because House and Senate Republican leaders have said they would not hold any votes following the Nov. 6 general election, all legislation not done by Wednesday evening will expire at the end of the legislative session on Nov. 30 and will have to be reintroduced in 2013.
"Instead of passing the most sweeping reforms to the property tax process in decades and handing a huge victory to Pennsylvania taxpayers, House Republican leaders abruptly ended the legislative session and told House members to have a nice day and see you next year," said. "It's a massive failure of leadership by the House majority."
The lawmaker continued: "The reforms contained in the bill could have helped to restore the reassessment process to its original, intended use and eliminate the ability to use reassessment as a weapon to dramatically increase property taxes, as we have seen in Washington County when McGuffey and Washington school districts sued to force reassessment. Instead, all the hard work of the Reassessment Task Force to find real solutions to this broken system was cast aside."
"This has been a painstaking, bipartisan effort to fix a flawed reassessment system and protect constituents from huge property tax increases," he said. "While we may not be back to square one, the failure to get this to the governor will put us back many, many months. But we are not giving up this fight, and we will come back even louder and stronger in the next legislative session."
Currently, each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties reassess under a different system with no statewide standards. Under S.B. 1546, the system of reassessing property values would have changed by:
- Creating in consultation with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania and the Assessors' Association of Pennsylvania an Operations Manual to be used by counties when completing a countywide reassessment or when valuating property;
- Creating a centralized and standardized statewide database for counties to use and report all property values and data as required;
- Developing a statewide training program for everyone involved in the valuation of property in every county. These programs would provide basic and detailed training that must be completed and passed by any person working in the commonwealth that is collecting, compiling, computing or handling data associated with the valuation of any property;
- Developing standards on contracting for assessment services in consultation with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania and the International Association of Assessing Officers. This would include a provision stating that the methodology used by any person, company or organization to value property in the commonwealth shall be made public and that all data and calculations are the property of the county and the commonwealth.
The Property Reassessment Reform Task Force, which was created under legislation authored by White and Neuman, was established to create a set of uniform standards for reassessing property values in the commonwealth, including developing new procedures for collecting and verifying reassessment data, developing standards for county reassessment contracting, and making other recommendations to improve the commonwealth’s flawed reassessment system.
Of the task force’s many findings, concerns and questions continually surfaced surrounding the data that the State Tax Equalization Board generates for purposes of reassessment, the lawmakers indicated.
STEB data was often found to be an inaccurate and unreliable statistical tool to determine the need for a county to conduct a reassessment. Under the bill discarded Wednesday, the State Tax Equalization Board Law (Act 447 of 1947) would have been repealed and STEB established within DCED.