PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — With implementation of the new assessment numbers put on hold for another year, does that give time for the state legislature to stop court-ordered assessments?
A number of lawmakers, attending a luncheon of NAIFA: Pittsburgh — an association of insurance agents and financial advisors, found it was one of the questions on people’s minds.
“I think there’s a chance,” said Rep. Rick Saccone, R–Elizabeth. “I’ve reintroduced my bill that passed overwhelming, bipartisan support last time, and hopefully we’ll get that same kind of support again. And we’ll see if we can’t win that over in the Senate.”
Legislators like Rep. Dom Costa, D–Morningside, think judges are over-reaching.
“People didn’t put judges in to make the laws. They put us in,” he said.
That feeling cuts across party lines.
“Judicial activism and something we need to put an end to, and hopefully we’ll have a chance to do so this coming session,” said Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry.
A moratorium on all court-ordered assessments did pass the House last year, but was killed in the Senate.
Could it be more successful this year?
“We intend to go back and push this issue, particularly as it relates to the moratorium across this commonwealth until we in the legislature takes steps to address reassessment across this commonwealth,” Sen. Jay Costa, the Senate Democratic Leader from Forest Hills, told KDKA Political Editor Jon Delano. “We think that’s what needs to be done and we’re going to continue to pursue that.”
But a moratorium may need a push from Governor Corbett.
Rep. Tony Deluca, D-Penn Hills noted, “I think since he comes from Allegheny County — and the majority leader comes from Allegheny County — I think they need to take an active role and show leadership on this issue because it is unfair.”
If there is to be momentum, local lawmakers say this should be first on the agenda when the legislature reconvenes next Tuesday.
“Day one, first act,” said Rep. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon. “We do a moratorium on any court-ordered assessment, stop it in its tracks, and then work on a system that’s fair statewide.”
But it’s not clear that everyone across the state feels the same pain that Allegheny County residents feel.
“I would like to see that happen,” said Rep. Paul Costa, D-Wilkins. “But unfortunately until it affects a majority of our legislators you’re not really going to see any action. Right now, only two or three or four of our counties are going through this.”
That’s part of the problem – there are 67 counties in the state.
But lawmakers everywhere are beginning to understand, says Rep. Jim Marshall, R-Big Beaver.
“It could be in any county. One judge could make a difference, and we really need a moratorium on assessments.”
One other county is already affected, says Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil.
“We’re dealing with the same exact issue in Washington County,” he said. “We have got lawyers who are using taxpayers’ money to file lawsuits and force a tax increase. It’s a vicious black hole cycle.”
Without a statewide moratorium on these court orders, a judge in any county could do what Judge R. Stanton Wettick has done.
“Folks in Butler and surrounding counties are watching that, anticipating it could strike them some day. It’s a problem when you allow judges to do what they do with assessments,” said Metcalfe.
Local lawmakers hope colleagues across the state will get the message.
“I think legislators from other parts of the state know that this something that will percolate to their end of the state, so they know that this is a threat,” added Smith.
But the key to quick action, say most, is Governor Tom Corbett.
“I think the governor should take a more active role in this situation,” said Deluca. “He took a pledge not to raise taxes. I consider this a tax increase on the residents of Allegheny County.”
The General Assembly returns to work next Tuesday. Lawmakers say anyone in any county concerned that a judge could do this to them should call their legislators immediately.