Grossly Inflated Real Estate Taxes
Grossly inflated real estate taxes are a burden on a taxpayer and violate the property owner’s constitutional rights to equal taxation and equal protection under the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions.
The Pennsylvania Constitution provides: “All taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be levied and collected under general laws.” Pa. Const., Art. VIII, § 1. This guarantee of equal taxation exists to ensure that each taxpayer pays a proportionate share of taxes based on the value of the taxpayer’s property; to that end, for over 100 years, the law in Pennsylvania has been as follows:
While every tax is a burden, it is more cheerfully borne when the citizen feels that he is only required to bear his proportionate share of that burden measured by the value of his property to that of his neighbor. This is not an idle thought in the mind of the taxpayer, nor is it mere speculative theory advocated by learned writers on the subject; but it is a fundamental principle written into the Constitutions and statutes of almost every state in this country. Del., L. & W.R. Co.’s Tax Assessment, 73 A. 429, 430 (Pa. 1909).
The fundamental principle that a taxpayer should pay no more (or less) than the taxpayer’s proportionate share of government endures. See, e.g., Clifton, 969 A.2d at 1212 describing the “overarching concept” for property taxation as being that “the uniformity requirement is based on ‘the general principle that taxpayers should pay no more or less than their proportionate share of government.’” To comply with the constitutional mandate of the Uniformity Clause, “all taxes must be uniform on the same class of subjects within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax.” Deitch, 209 A.2d at 400.
Thus, to prove a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution’s uniformity requirement, the taxpayer must show: (1) the taxes on the same class of subjects are not uniform; and (2) “there is deliberate discrimination in the application of the tax or that it has a discriminatory effect.” City of Lancaster v. Cnty. of Lancaster, 599 A.2d 289, 294 (Pa. Cmmw. Ct. 1991). In this context, “deliberate” discrimination is not limited to wrongful conduct; it “includes any intentional or systematic method of enforcement of the tax laws.” Downingtown, 913 A.2d at 201, n.10 (citations omitted).
The same analysis applies for evaluation of whether taxation violates the Equal Protection Clause from the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
In tax matters, alleged violations of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the uniformity clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution are analyzed in the same manner; a taxpayer alleging that the administration of a tax violates its rights to be taxed uniformly with others of its class must demonstrate deliberate, purposeful discrimination in the application of the tax before constitutional safeguards are violated.