One of the most basic principles of uniform taxation required by the Pennsylvania Constitution is that a taxpayer pays no more or less than his or her proportionate share of the cost of government. The ability to appeal property tax assessments helps to ensure that taxpayers have some way to keep the playing field level. Current law recognizes these interests and provides appeal rights to individual taxpayers and local governments, including school districts.
However, while it is widely acknowledged that Pennsylvania’s property assessment system needs comprehensive reform, legislative proposals that would take away a school district’s right to appeal the assessment of a property are not the solution.
Senate Bill 334 (Sen. Argall, R-Schuylkill) is legislation that greatly restricts the ability of school districts to seek appeals of under-assessed properties, only allowing appeals to be sought under very limited circumstances. It also allows requests for the dismissal of an appeal with the districts bearing the burden to prove that the reassessment is justified. By limiting the right to initiate appeals, particularly with large commercial properties, school districts will experience significant losses in revenue. The bill was reported out of the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee on October 23, 2019 and is now in the Senate Appropriations Committee for further consideration.
The problem with Senate Bill 334:
- This is not taxpayer-friendly legislation. Any property that is under-assessed for whatever reason inherently shifts the tax burden over to those property owners who are properly assessed. What is being lost in these discussions is that all other property owners in a school district must bear the tax burden of the under-assessed properties.
- Senate Bill 334 would take away the only voice on behalf of homeowners and small businesses being forced to subsidize under-assessed properties. Assessment appeals ensure that taxpayers have some way to keep the playing field level.
- By eliminating the right to initiate appeals, particularly with large commercial properties that are significantly under-assessed, school districts will experience losses in revenue that could be significant.
- Senate Bill 334 restricts the ability to generate future local revenues and will harm school districts that are already grappling with scarce resources. This amounts to an education funding cut and ultimately will force school districts to cut school programs or raise property taxes.A school district’s priority is to educate children, and districts shouldn’t be forced to raise taxes because of a bad change in the law.
- Pennsylvania’s property assessment system needs comprehensive reform, and this bill is not the solution.Rather than restricting the authority to appeal under-assessed properties, the proper approach is to fix the current system that makes these appeals necessary in the first place. Senate Bill 334 falls far short of addressing the necessary reform measures needed to ensure regular and reliable reassessment.