Assessment Follies

County Exec Dan Onorato has another op-ed in today's paper that defends his intention to give the county an assessment plan that is "fair, uniform, certain and stable." Last week, Jim DeAngelis critiqued the Onorato proposal on the ground that it favors wealthy homeowners. DeAngelis argues that so long as we're living with a real estate tax regime, the current round of assessments should stand, and the county should "trust property owners to use their right to appeal," and put enforcement teeth in the 5 percent limit in the commonwealth's anti-windfall law.

DeAngelis is putting a lot of faith in the appeals process -- which is largely unwarranted, from all the anecdotes I've collected -- and in the anti-windfall law. Both his plan and Onorato's suffer from building on the flaws of the original reassessment, which have never been purged. DeAngelis has a slightly better shade of lipstick on that pig: he's looking toward a genuinely better system. By contrast, Onorato claims that he's working with political reality. Why strive to do better?

In the long term, real tax reform and simple fairness dictate that real estate and sales taxes should drop substantially, and state income taxes should rise. But that's pie in the sky thinking. Local taxing authorities (read: school boards) won't give up their power, especially in wealthy communities where high tax bases mean fancy schools. And in the long run, we're all dead.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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