Swann advocates property-tax cap, but tax experts call it illegal.
By PETER JACKSON
Associated Press Writer
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP, April 26) - A major element of Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann's tax-fighting
agenda – a cap on property taxes – would violate the Pennsylvania Constitution, several tax experts said Wednesday.
In a Tuesday speech at a Camp Hill luncheon sponsored by the Pennsylvania Association of Retired Employees, Swann promised
to cap property taxes in a way that ensures that the taxes of individual homeowners do not change as long as they own their
property, his campaign confirmed.
Swann campaign spokesman Lenny Alcivar said Wednesday that Swann also will advocate an overhaul of the present property
assessment system with "a more efficient and predictable" method when he unveils his complete plan at still-to-be-announced
date in May.
However, two tax lawyers and another expert interviewed separately said the proposal would violate a provision in the
state constitution that says "All taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of
the authority levying the tax."
"It clearly violates the uniformity provision of the state constitution," said Bob Louis, a tax lawyer with Saul Ewing
"To do this, Mr. Swann is going to have to amend the constitution," Louis said. "Good luck to him."
Doug Hill, executive director of the Pennsylvania County Commissioners Association, which advocates for the state's 67
county governments on tax issues before the Legislature, agreed that such a proposal would be unconstitutional.
Amending the Constitution is a time-consuming process that requires approval in two separate, two-year sessions of the
Legislature, followed by voter ratification in a statewide referendum.
A lawyer who works for Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Jubelirer, R-Blair, an early Swann supporter, said the
former football star's proposal is not necessarily dead on arrival.
J. Andrew Crompton, who is Jubelirer's counsel, speculated that it may be possible to insulate homeowners from tax increases
without violating the constitution through changes in the assessment system.
Also, a constitutional amendment voters approved in 1997 to make possible the "homestead exemptions" that are available
in some school districts introduced the concept of a limited differential in tax rates levied on residential taxpayers and
businesses, he said.
"There is leeway there. There is opportunity there. Perhaps they want to amend the constitution. I don't know," Crompton