Saturday, September 24, 2011

Assessments Solution: Hit the Road

Okay. We give up.

It is clearly more urgent that Allegheny County compete economically on a level if screwball playing field with neighboring counties, than its own residents finally be treated equitably and constitutionally or that its schools and localities be allowed to benefit from all its general prosperity. Clearly.

But this:

It just so happens that the governor, Tom Corbett, is subject to the same county assessment system. The longtime Shaler resident would be prime for lobbying on the issue because he knows the reality firsthand. (P-G, Edit Board)

Mmm. Yes. State politicians are frequently motivated by "knowing" and "realizing" things, not by the self-interested passions of innumerable legions of rural and affluent property owners and stakeholders, who fervently desire to be left alone to benefit from prevailing absurdities.

Instead, try this:



Send them to Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Instruct them to seek out school district officials, property owners invested in declining communities, and one-time political players relegated to the wilderness. Illustrate the real injustices from which they all either suffer or can take advantage. Motivate them to copy, paste and refile that lawsuit which a similar ragtag bunch of misfits launched in Alleghenyland. If they need help doing their own localized research, send Ira Weiss down for an afternoon to get them started.

Wait a year. Maybe more. Maybe less.

At a minimum, all our neighbors will get similarly stuck having to institute fair and constitutional taxation regimes. In every likelihood however, one of those judges is bound to see this issue is crying out for a statewide solution (as we all expected the first time around) and will force the state's hand.

Then finally, release Rich Fitzgerald from prison, a vindicated civil rights hero.


  1. I know it was snark, but for the record, more frequent reassessments would make Allegheny County more, not less, competitive with its neighbors.

  2. BrianTH, how do you figure? The argument everyone out there is making is that more frequent reassessments would make us so much LESS competitive. Hence, "We need a statewide solution!"

  3. We need fairness and equity, Bram.

    As I pointed out earlier this week, a fair and equitable (and accurate) reassessment would drive many people's taxes down, not up. The people whose taxes go up would DESERVE to have them go up, because they've been paying less than their fair share.

    If assessments are kept fair and up to date, then the burden is shared fairly and equitably. Period. That makes Allegheny County more competitive.

    If Butler County doesn't reassess, and I move in and buy a new home, or build a new home, my assessment is going to be accurate, but most of the rest of the county will not be. Which means I'm paying more than my fair share while everyone else is paying less, thanks to the locked-in values and the inequities they perpetuate.

    So if I'm really choosing my place to live based on property tax bills -- a process I think is far less common than we like to pretend, and foolhardy no matter what -- then a regularly assessed county, in which everyone pays his (or her) fair share, is definitely more attractive to me.

    I don't know why -- besides political demagoguery and mainstream media sheep-ery -- this is such a difficult concept to grasp.

    Screw a statewide solution. I want fairness and equity where I live.

  4. "I don't know why -- besides political demagoguery and mainstream media sheep-ery -- this is such a difficult concept to grasp."

    Well. How about what is more competitive for people who already own a home they are very enthused about or who own lots of land on spec which they'd like to sell at their leisure, who are presently registered to vote here, and who are presently in a position to donate a portion of their unfair property appreciation differential to a political campaign so that it can flood the airwaves with name recognition ads for themselves and eventually negative ads for their opponents, and then knock and drag people to the polls all over this wide county on Election Day.

    But Dan Onorato actually answered our concern a couple years ago. He flatly denied that anybody's tax burden "actually" goes down after a reassessment. I forget his reasoning exactly. I think one tenet of his argument was, most property appreciates. And also among other things, he was grimly skeptical that there would "really" be a millage decrease to offset any windfall (but whatever that was, it left open the question of whether a County Executive wouldn't be in prime position to make sure things like that don't happen).

    At any rate, I agree with you Chad, but after lo these many years Fairness, Equity and Constitutionality aren't gaining any traction to speak of. If people want a statewide system (which wouldn't be all bad) a few more of these lawsuits in Counties may be the most efficient way to pursue it. The Courts have long been the most responsive branch of government for people with more sense than means.

  5. And then add on the library tax and the City is less competitive.

  6. If this issue is dealt with on a statewide basis will they also address the non-profit property owners. It would seem to me that if "all" were paying their "fair" share
    increases wouldn't be needed,that more than enough revenues would be raised.

  7. Maybe they could reassess and to keep everyone happy they could just hand out money to people with nice houses (use the list of who Restoration Hardware sends a catalog to) and burn books so the library doesn't need to pay for staff.

  8. If you really want fairness, then ditch property taxes and replace with income taxes.. as an increase to the State income tax.

    Property 'values' are grossly subjective, property taxes are punative to Senior citizens and anyone who loses a job or takes a cut in pay and/or hours. Income taxes are definitive and measurable and could be collected/administered/distributed quite easily at the State level. Oh, I think I just answered why this would not 'work'.. too many fiefdoms would be destroyed.

    Oh, there also would be wailing and moaning by those who rent because a portion of their rental is a proportionate share of the property tax associated with the rental unit. I acknowledge this is an issue requiring some means of addressing.

  9. Property taxes and a land value tax are much different from each other in some serious ways.

    Nothing is more 'definitive' than land. It is easy to measure and impossible to hide.

    I too do NOT want this to be a state-wide solution as much as a local and county solution.

    The land value tax is the best way to go. We had it in the past in Pittsburgh and this is why we are blessed with high density buildings downtown and had generations of affordable housing, IMHO.

  10. I agree with Mark, not that I think it is politically possible.

  11. There was a land / building split in the past, right? People store wealth in structures and see it significantly appreciate, we can't totally ignore that.

  12. I think the bigger problem is not storing enough wealth in structures. Apparently, 90% of the maintainance is being done by nonprofits.