Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

New Battle Brewing on Realty Tax

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

New Battle Brewing on Realty Tax

Article excerpt

HARRISBURG -- With a state proposal that would allow counties to halt their court-ordered property reassessments halfway to the governor's desk, there's now a pack of bills following in its wake aiming to reduce or eliminate the property tax entirely.

Those varying approaches all would look to other options -- such as boosting the sales tax or income tax -- to make up for lost property tax revenues.

"I believe that property taxes on our homes is immoral," said state Rep. Rick Saccone, a Republican from Elizabeth Township, at a recent news conference to unveil one proposal for axing that levy. "It hurts seniors in their most vulnerable moment, when they're on a fixed income."

Mr. Saccone, whose reassessment moratorium bill unanimously passed the House earlier this month, said eliminating the property tax is necessary to protect homeowners.

"The cavalry is on the way," he said. "We're coming."

That message isn't a new one in the state Capitol. There have been similar efforts put forward for decades -- perhaps most prominently from former GOP state representative Sam Rohrer of Berks County, who pointed to the sales tax and later to gas drilling royalties as replacement funds for school districts.

Despite their prevalence, previous efforts targeting the tax failed to garner broad-based support. But some lawmakers say they believe the Allegheny County reassessment saga, as well as property value increases in other regions of the state that have grown dramatically, has created more urgency for tax reform.

"The constituents are starting to see the real impact on their property tax bills," said state Sen. John Pippy, R-Moon.

The reassessment process here has prompted Sen. Wayne Fontana, D- Brookline, to introduce a plan that would allow only Allegheny County to replace the property tax by either a vote of county council or by residents.

"My plan is about asking the citizens, 'Do we want to have property taxes to fund schools and county services or don't you?' " Mr. Fontana said. "If they say no, then we go back to, 'How do we make it as fair as possible?' "

In addition to Mr. Fontana's plan, another proposal from Sen. …

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