IN THIS ISSUE: PA Governor Proposes Corporate Tax CutsAdd-Back Legislation ReintroducedPA Supreme Court Issues Business / Nonbusiness Income DecisionPhiladelphia Property ReassessmentsCommonwealth Court Addresses Additional IFTA IssuesCommonwealth Court Opinion Contains Important LessonsAdministrative Bank AttachmentPA Supreme Court Invalidates Local “Flat Tax” on Businesses l Use of Appeal Filing Date as Valuation Date for Assessment Appeals

PA Governor Proposes Corporate Tax Cuts & Fuel Tax Increases

by James L. Fritz

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has proposed significant corporate tax cuts and fuel tax increases as part of his proposed 2013-14 budget, presented on February 5th. The General Fund budget would be increased by 2.4%, to $28.4 billion while the total operating budget (including federal funds and other special purpose funds) would be set at $66.7 billion.

 

As with past budgets, the bulk of the funding for the General Fund budget would be derived from the Personal Income Tax (40.2%) and the Sales & Use Tax (32.0%). The Corporate Net Income Tax and Capital Stock & Franchise Tax would account for 9.6%. An overall revenue increase of 1.3% is projected for fiscal 2013-14. A surplus of $232 million in excess of revenue estimates is expected to be available for carryforward from 2012-13.

 

Corporate Tax Reductions
Responding to long-standing requests from the business community to make Pennsylvania’s corporate tax structure more competitive, the Governor has proposed a number of corporate tax changes. Recognizing that current fiscal circumstances limit the reductions that can be implemented immediately, the major changes would be implemented over time.

  • The Capital Stock & Franchise Tax phase-out would be completed, reducing the current 0.89 mill rate to zero as of January 1, 2014.
  • The Corporate Net Income Tax rate would be phased down from the current 9.99% to 6.99% over several years. The rate would be reduced to 9.89% for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2015, and then phased-down to 6.99% for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2025.
  • The Corporate Net Income Tax Net Loss Cap would be increased from the greater of $3 million or 20% of taxable income to the greater of $4 million or 25% for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2014 and to the greater of $5 million or 30% for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2015.
  • Market Sourcing for Services. Currently, the sourcing of receipts from services in the sales apportionment factor is based on where the income producing activity occurs and, if it occurs in multiple states, where the greater proportion of the income producing activity occurs as measured by the costs of performance. The Governor proposes to amend the apportionment provisions to move to market sourcing for services revenues. The actual language we’ve seen seems to be in a state of flux – currently focusing on where the service is “delivered” and providing alternatives if that cannot be determined. Proposals would also clarify that revenues from sale of real estate and from lease or rental of tangible personal property would follow the location of the property. The specific language for these purposes is still being vetted. If this would be of special concern to your company, we urge you to let us know so that we may assist you in communicating your concerns to those who are working up the detailed proposal.
  • The corporate Loans Tax would be repealed.

Transportation Funding
The Governor’s long-awaited transportation funding proposal would reduce the Liquid Fuels Tax by one cent per gallon as of July 1, 2013 and by another cent on July 1, 2014, reducing the flat cents-per-gallon tax from 12 cents to 10 cents. This would be offset many times over by substantial increases in the Oil Company Franchise Tax which, technically, is imposed on oil companies but is essentially an indirect pass-through to the consumer. Currently, the tax is imposed at a statutory millage rate against the average wholesale price, which is then converted to a cents-per-gallon basis. However, the maximum wholesale price for tax calculation purposes has been capped at $1.25, a level not seen since 2006. The tax is currently levied at 19.2 cents per gallon on gasoline and 26.1 cents per gallon on diesel. If there were no cap, the tax currently would be levied at 47.8 cents and 64.9 cents, respectively. The cap would be phased out over five years:  by one-third on July 1, 2013, one-third on January 1, 2015 and the remaining one-third on January 1, 2017.

The net effect of these tax changes, the redirection of certain existing funds and other changes would generate an additional $510 million in 2013-14, rising to an additional $1.8 billion in the fifth year of the funding change. According to the Governor’s Office, the number of Pennsylvania roads classified as “poor” increased from 7,500 miles in 2007 to more than 9,200 miles in 2011. In his budget address, the Governor said that the average age of a bridge in Pennsylvania is 51 years and more than 4,000 bridges are deemed structurally deficient. We have heard comments from other sources that even more money is required to address this problem than would be produced by the Governor’s proposals.

Personal Income Tax Changes
The Tax Reform Code would be amended to exempt like-kind exchanges and to allow a $5,000 start-up business deduction.

Sales & Use Tax
The Governor’s budget proposal did not include any sales and use tax changes. This is a welcome development in light of the administration’s past attempts to reduce or eliminate the one percent vendor’s collection allowance.

Realty Transfer Tax
Yet-to-be-disclosed language would eliminate current planning used to avoid triggering the 90% deemed “sale” of a “real estate company.”

Tax Appeals
The Governor has included funding in his budget to implement a new Tax Review Commission in place of the current Board of Finance and Revenue. Three commissioners would be appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate for staggered six-year terms. Details are still being developed but early indications suggest that we may finally be nearing a truly independent tax appeal unit to hear appeals from decisions of the Department of Revenue’s own Board of Appeals. We will continue to monitor this proposal closely as past proposals have provided a superficially positive impression, only to disappoint after digging into the details.

Simplifications and Nuisance Taxes
The Governor’s proposal also mentioned “removing obsolete taxation and administrative provisions.” Details, however, have not yet been divulged.

Divestiture of Liquor Stores – Block Grants to Schools
The Governor has proposed to divest the state of its retail and wholesale wine and spirits operations over four years, yielding $1 billion in proceeds that would be distributed through a “Passport for Learning Block Grant” program to the Commonwealth’s school districts. The grants would be targeted to school safety, early learning, individualized learning and programming in science, technology, engineering and math. Tax and other revenues currently generated from the state-owned wine and spirits system to fund other state programs would be maintained. The block grants should reduce pressure for school districts to increase local property taxes.

State Pension Reform
While having no direct impact on taxes, the pressure to generate additional state and local tax revenues would be reduced under state pension reforms proposed by the Governor. The State Employee Retirement Fund and the Public School Employee Retirement Fund are currently funded at only 67.8% of the actuarially sound amount. Current unfunded liabilities of $41 billion would grow to $65 billion over the next few years without any changes. Part of the Governor’s proposal would tweak currently-scheduled payment levels to reduce current contributions by the state, local school districts and other education agencies.

Pennsylvania’s budget is not required to be finalized until June 30th. The Governor’s proposal may undergo substantial transformations as the House and the Senate craft their own versions of the budget. If you have an interest in a particular tax issue, we can assist you in monitoring ongoing developments and in communicating your position to appropriate parties in the General Assembly, the Governor’s Office and the Department of Revenue. Please contact any member of the McNees SALT Group to discuss your needs.

Add-Back Legislation Reintroduced

by James L. Fritz 

 

Representative Dave Reed (R-Indiana Co.), with more than fifty co-sponsors, has reintroduced legislation (H.B. 440) that would require corporations preparing PA Corporate Net Income Tax returns to add-back any “intangible expense or cost” paid, accrued or incurred directly or indirectly in a transaction with an affiliated entity. Credit would be provided in some instances when the recipient would pay tax on the income. The legislation also would provide a foreign treaty exception and a “valid business purpose” exception.

 

In addition, the proposed legislation would phase-out the cap on net loss deductions and phase-down the CNI rate from 9.99% to 6.99%.

 

Similar legislation passed the PA House last year by a healthy margin but died in the Senate. Representative Reed appears to be targeting this bill for passage with the 2013-14 state budget.

 

PA Supreme Court Issues Business / Nonbusiness Income Decision

 

by Randy L. Varner

 

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that a taxpayer’s gain from the sale of timberland was apportionable business income using the “functional test” of Pennsylvania’s amended definition of “business income.” Glatfelter Pulpwood Co. v. Commonwealth, No. 62 MAP 2011 (Pa. January 22, 2013). The Court has substantially limited the continuing viability of its prior holding in Laurel Pipe Line v. Bd. of Fin. & Rev., 642 A.2d 472 (Pa. 1994), which treated the liquidation of a separate and distinct aspect of a business as “nonbusiness income.”

 

Background
Glatfelter’s sole business activity was to obtain pulpwood for its parent company’s paper manufacturing processes. The company grew and harvested timberland in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Sometime in 2003, a business decision was made to sell off approximately 5,000 acres of timberland holdings in Delaware. The company reported tax on 100% of the gain to Delaware.

On appeal, the Commonwealth Court agreed with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue that 42% of the gain was apportionable to Pennsylvania as business income. The company appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Court’s Decision
On appeal, Glatfelter argued that the gain from the sale of the Delaware timberland was nonbusiness income because the sale was a partial liquidation of a separate and distinct line of the taxpayer’s business, relying on the holding in Laurel Pipe. Further, the company argued that the sale of the timberland was unrelated to its regular business operations in Pennsylvania. Finally, the company argued that Pennsylvania’s attempt to tax 42% of the gain from the sale of timberland in Delaware, when Delaware taxed 100% of it, violated the Due Process and Commerce Clauses of the United States Constitution.

The Court first addressed the business/nonbusiness issue. The Court reaffirmed that there are two separate and distinct tests for determining whether income is business income - the “transactional test” and the “functional test.” The Commonwealth Court had held that the sale of the timberland did not satisfy the “transactional test”; that is, the company did not engage in the sale of timberland in the regular course of its business. The Commonwealth Court, however, did find that the “functional test” of business income was met, and that was the test the Supreme Court focused on.

With respect to the functional test, the Court recognized that prior to 2001, Pennsylvania defined “business income” as:

income arising from transactions and activity in the regular course of the taxpayer’s trade or business and includes income from tangible and intangible property if the acquisition, management and disposition of the property constitute integral parts of the taxpayer’s regular trade or business operations.

72 P.S. § 7401(3)2.(a)(1)(A), repealed and revised in 2001 (emphasis added). In 2001, the definition of “business income” was amended to read:

income arising from transactions and activity in the regular course of the taxpayer’s trade or business and includes income from tangible and intangible property if either the acquisition, management or disposition of the property constitutes integral parts of the taxpayer’s regular trade or business operations.

72 P.S. § 7401(3)2.(a)(1)(A)(emphasis added).

The Court viewed this statutory amendment changing the text from conjunctive, “and”, to disjunctive, “or”, as a basis for distinguishing Glatfelter’s case from Laurel Pipe.

In Laurel Pipe, decided under the pre-amendment statute, the Court found that disposition of a pipeline was nonbusiness income. Under the pre-amendment statutory definition the acquisition, management, and disposition of property had to constitute an integral part of the taxpayer’s business for a gain to be business income. This holding effectively created a “liquidation exception” to business income. After Laurel Pipe, however, the statute was amended as set forth above.

Now, the Court’s holding in Glatfelter has made clear that if gains from either the acquisition or management or disposition of property constitutes an integral part of the taxpayer’s business, the gain will be characterized as business income. In Glatfelter, the record was clear that the acquisition and management of the timberland were integral parts of the taxpayer’s business. Therefore, the gain from the sale was business income. The Court noted that its holding was based “largely on the amendments to the relevant statutory definition of business income since Laurel Pipe was decided.”

Interestingly, the Court, while recognizing that the General Assembly’s intent of the 2001 amendment to the definition of “business income” was to “clarify existing law,” 72 P.S. § 7401 (Historical and Statutory Notes (quoting Act 2001-23 § 25), did not discuss what that meant. Instead, the Court adopted the view that the 2001 amendments substantially changed the definition from conjunctive to disjunctive.

Next, the Court addressed Glatfelter’s alternative argument that the disposition of the timberland was so unrelated to the taxpayer’s Pennsylvania business activities that it should not be subject to Pennsylvania’s corporate net income tax. The Court soundly rejected that argument, reasoning that the sale of the timberland was integrally related to the taxpayer’s business activities in Pennsylvania, and that the timberland was not relegated to an “unrelated asset” just because a decision was made to sell it.

Finally, the Court also rejected the company’s arguments regarding the Due Process and Commerce Clauses - that the application of the apportionment formula to the timberland gain was improper because there was no rational relationship between the sale and taxpayer’s business activities, and that the income attributed to Pennsylvania was out of proportion to the business the company conducts in Pennsylvania. The Court held that the taxpayer is a unitary business, operating as an integrated whole with its sole purpose to deliver pulpwood to its parent company. Therefore, the Court reseasoned, the taxpayer is properly subject to Pennsylvania’s corporate net income tax. The Court also rejected the “double taxation” argument by citing United States Supreme Court precedent that double taxation does not necessarily make a fairly apportioned tax unconstitutional.

In the wake of the Glatfelter decision, it will be necessary for taxpayers who liquidate a line of business and seek nonbusiness income treatment to show that neither the acquisition, nor the management nor the disposition of the property giving rise to the gain was an integral part of its business. Obviously, the “liquidation” exception to business income in Pennsylvania has been severely weakened.

If you have any questions about the Glatfelter decision, or if your business has a possible business/nonbusiness income issue, please contact a member of the McNees SALT team.

Philadelphia Property Reassessments

by Randy L. Varner 

The Philadelphia Office of Property Assessment (“OPA”) has announced that it will be issuing new “Actual Value Initiative” reassessments for every property in Philadelphia in February. Therefore, every property owner in Philadelphia should be on the lookout for the reassessment notice.

 

The “Actual Value Initiative” intends to value each parcel to reflect the actual market value of the property as of February 1, 2013. This initiative comes on the heels of many months of confusion over common level ratios, rulings by the State Tax Equalization Board, and eventual state legislation over the ratios. The reassessment as a result of this initiative will take all the mystery over ratios out of the process. Because each property will be reassessed, however, property owners should examine their notices closely to make sure that the reassessed value represents the actual value of the property.

 

A property owner who disagrees with the value placed on a property may request an informal review from the OPA, using a form that will be provided along with the reassessment. The form will allow the property owner to provide additional information for the OPA’s consideration. If the OPA does not provide satisfactory relief to the property owner, a formal appeal may be filed with the Philadelphia Board of Revision of Taxes on or before the annual appeal deadline of October 7, 2013.

 

If you own property in Philadelphia and have any questions, please contact a member of the McNees SALT team.

 

Commonwealth Court Addresses Additional IFTA Issues, Including Exclusion of Drilling Rigs

by Sharon R. Paxton 

As we reported in earlier editions of PA Tax Law News, the Commonwealth Court issued two decisions last year upholding tax liabilities imposed on motor carriers that failed to comply with IFTA mileage and fuel documentation requirements. Appeals are currently pending before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in both of those cases (R&R Express v. Commonwealth and Southern Pines Trucking v. Commonwealth). In Senex Explosives, Inc. v. Commonwealth, No. 703 F.R. 2007 (December 19, 2012), a three judge panel of the Commonwealth Court extended the court’s rationale in R&R Express to bulk fuel purchases. The panel upheld the Department of Revenue’s denial of credit for tax paid on bulk fuel used by a taxpayer’s IFTA-qualifying vehicles because the taxpayer employed inadequate record-keeping procedures. The panel did, however, agree with the taxpayer that tax was improperly imposed on “special mobile equipment” (“SME”) which is exempt from Pennsylvania Motor Carriers Road Tax. The Department of Revenue had imposed tax on the SME (drilling rigs) because the taxpayer had obtained IFTA decals for the disputed units.

 

Senex Explosives operates a drilling and blasting business. Its work consists of drilling blasting holes for the placement of explosives as part of road and railway construction. Bulk fuel was used to power most of Senex’s motor vehicles, which consisted of both IFTA-qualifying and non-qualifying vehicles. There was no dispute that Senex had paid tax on all of its bulk fuel purchases. Nevertheless, credit for the tax paid on the bulk fuel purchases was disallowed because Senex did not maintain sufficient records to show the amount of fuel dispensed from its bulk tanks to individual vehicles. The court also rejected Senex’s argument that its audit liability should have been computed based on quarterly reports that it filed for periods subsequent to the audit period because those reports represented the “best information available” for determining its proper tax liability for the audit period.

 

The Commonwealth acknowledged that SME units are exempt from Pennsylvania Motor Carriers Road Tax. SME also is not subject to decal requirements in Pennsylvania. The Department of Revenue, however, imposed tax on all miles traveled by Senex’s decaled SME units on the basis that placing decals on the SME units vitiated the tax exemption. The court agreed with Senex that the SME mileage should not have been included in the audit deficiency. Some other states do impose tax on, and require IFTA decals for, SME units. The Commonwealth had asserted that Senex benefited from having IFTA-decaled vehicles in that such vehicles would be permitted to travel over the highways into other jurisdictions. The court rejected that argument on the basis that there was insufficient information in the case record to support an inference that Senex’s SME units traveled over interstate highways to reach out-of-state work destinations (as opposed to being transported there). The court further determined that the Commonwealth had failed to explain why a decaling violation should be punishable by a tax consequence.

 

The court’s decision would not prohibit the Department of Revenue from imposing IFTA taxes on SME units on behalf of another state if there is evidence that the SME units traveled on the other state’s highways.

 

Commonwealth Court Opinion Contains Important Lessons for Property Owners

 

by Randy L. Varner

 

On January 23, a panel of the Commonwealth Court in Krohn v. Snyder County Board of Assessment Appeals, Nos. 116 and 117 C.D. 2012 (January 23, 2013), overturned an attempt by Snyder County to reassess a two acre tract of land with a barn.

 

The county issued a reassessment notice due to “the sale of land and the assessment of a home site not assessed previously.” The “sale of land” given as a reason for the reassessment was the taxpayer’s sale of an adjoining tract of land. As part of the reassessment, the county also added the value of a home site even though the land had no home site on it. The Board of Assessment Appeals denied an appeal filed by the taxpayers.

 

On appeal to the county trial court, the taxpayers argued that the reassessment was an invalid “spot assessment.” While the trial court agreed that none of the four statutory criteria for a reassessment applied to the taxpayers’ property, it ruled that the reassessment was proper and necessary in order to comply with the Uniformity Clause in the Pennsylvania Constitution. The record in the case showed that the county had a practice of adding a home site value to tax parcels for which the assessment office determined that a residential home site constituted the highest and best use for the parcel. The trial court reasoned that the failure to reassess taxpayer’s property consistent with that policy would lead to a Uniformity Clause violation.

 

The Commonwealth Court rejected the reasoning of the trial court, recognizing that reassessments are only authorized in specific situations provided by statute, and that none of those situations were present in the taxpayer’s case. Therefore, the reassessment was an illegal spot assessment.

 

The Court rejected the county’s practice of assigning a home site value when no home site existed, reasoning that “real estate taxes [are] based on the actual value of the property, not its hypothetical value.”

 

This case is instructive for property owners. First, a purported “reassessment” (when no countywide reassessment has been undertaken) should be viewed closely to be sure that it is supported by law. Some reasons for a change in assessment include the subdivision of land and repairs or alterations to real property. The sale of property alone is not enough to trigger a reassessment. Furthermore, if you believe that your assessment includes a “home site” value on otherwise vacant land, you should consider filing an appeal.

 

Administrative Bank Attachment

 

by Megan F. Luck

 

The 2012-2013 Pennsylvania state budget adopted last July authorized the use of administrative bank attachment by the Department of Revenue. Prior to utilizing this collection technique, the Department was required to develop guidelines regarding its new authority to order the attachment and seizure of funds. The Department has now issued an Informational Notice establishing those guidelines.

The Department may use administrative bank attachment for business entities, individuals operating as sole proprietors, shareholders, members or partners of pass-through entities, and corporate officers and other responsible individuals who have property subject to the Department’s lien in excess of $1,000.

The Department will not utilize administrative bank attachment for an assessment until a taxpayer’s appeal rights expire and the Department either cannot locate the taxpayer or the taxpayer refuses to satisfy the liability or establish a deferred payment plan.

Once the Department has filed a lien against a taxpayer, administrative bank attachment is only one of several enforcement methods available to the Department. For example, prior to seeking an administrative bank attachment, the Department may revoke a taxpayer’s sales tax license. Similarly, the Department is not required to use administrative bank attachment with respect to a particular case.

If the Department mails an attachment notice to the taxpayer’s financial institution, the Department must also send a notice to the taxpayer. The taxpayer (or the financial institution or an account holder of interest) has ten days from when the notice was sent to contest the attachment by filing a petition with the county court of common pleas where the taxpayer’s business is located or, if an individual, where the taxpayer resides. A copy of the appeal must be served via first class mail to the Department’s Office of Chief Counsel, Bankruptcy / Collections Unit. The law provides multiple grounds upon which relief may be granted, including for good cause, severe economic hardship and a request for spousal relief from joint liability. However, such grounds do not include a mistake or error in the Department’s original assessment that serves as a basis for the Department’s lien.

If no appeal is taken from the Department’s notice of attachment or upon the resolution of a challenge of the same, the financial institution must remit the seized funds, less its own administrative fee, if applicable, to the Department. Financial institutions are subject to various requirements under this law and a failure to attach accounts or remit seized funds as required may result in penalties.

 

PA Supreme Court Invalidates Local “Flat Tax” on Businesses

 

by Sharon R. Paxton

 

In Shelly Funeral Home, Inc. v. Warrington Township, 30 MAP 2010 (December 18, 2012), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed a 2010 decision of the Commonwealth Court and held that a business privilege “flat tax” ordinance passed by Warrington Township, limited to businesses with gross receipts in excess of $1 million, violated the Local Tax Reform Act (“LTRA”). The Supreme Court held that the tax ordinance imposed a prohibited business privilege tax “on gross receipts or part thereof” even though the ordinance imposed a fixed tax, and not a tax based on a percentage of receipts.

The disputed tax ordinance imposed a $2,600 annual business privilege tax on all businesses with gross receipts over $1 million and exempted from liability all businesses with gross receipts of $1 million or less. (The Township had determined that businesses that generate more than $1 million in gross receipts tend to be larger and require more municipal resources than smaller businesses and had enacted the ordinance on these businesses at a level required to close a $400,000 budget shortfall.) The Commonwealth Court had upheld the disputed tax on the basis that it constituted a “flat tax,” and flat taxes had previously been deemed permissible in Smith and McMaster, P.C. v. Newtown Borough, 669 A.2d 452 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1995). In Smith and McMaster, the court had rejected the taxpayer’s argument that the tax was invalid because it was inevitably paid out of each business’s gross receipts. Rather, the court held that a flat tax was permissible under the LTRA because it was in no way dependent on the amount of a business’s gross receipts. In the instant case, the lower courts had accepted the Township’s argument that, based on Smith and McMaster, only percentage-based liability schemes are prohibited by the LTRA.

The Supreme Court determined that the LTRA’s prohibition against new taxes “on” gross receipts or a part thereof is not limited to taxes “measured by” gross receipts or otherwise restricted in its meaning to percentage-based taxes. The Court held that the disputed ordinance violated the LTRA because, in effect, it imposed a tax on that portion of a business’s gross receipts in excess of $1 million. In holding that the Township’s tax violated the LTRA, the Court did not go so far as to invalidate all flat taxes containing an exemption based on a threshold level of gross receipts. Rather, the Court specifically suggested that a “very modest” gross receipts threshold might be acceptable.

Please contact a member of the McNees SALT Group if you have questions concerning Business Privilege or other local taxes.

 

Commonwealth Court Confirms Use of Appeal Filing Date as Valuation Date for Real Estate Assessment Appeals

 

by Timothy J. Horstmann

 

The Commonwealth Court has held that the proper date of valuation in an Allegheny County assessment appeal is the appeal filing date, not the first day of the tax year under appeal. The school district had appealed the decision of the trial court which had established the value of the taxpayer’s property for tax years 2009 – 2011. The taxpayer had introduced into evidence an appraisal containing an opinion of the property’s value in 2009 and 2010, but did not introduce into evidence an opinion of value for 2011. The taxpayer’s valuation for 2009 was dated as of March 31, 2009, the date on which the taxpayer filed its initial appeal.

The school district challenged the validity of the taxpayer’s opinion of value for 2009 on the ground that the appraisal should have been dated as of January 1, 2009, the first day of the tax year. In support of its argument the school district noted that the assessment law applicable to Allegheny County requires the fact finder to determine the value of the property for “the tax year in question,” and that a “tax year” under the statute commences on January 1st. The Court rejected this argument, and adopted the position of the taxpayer that the assessment law applicable to Allegheny County, while requiring the fact finder to determine the value of the property for the “tax year in question,” is silent on the question of the specific date of valuation to use. The Court explained that where this statute is silent on an issue, the General County Assessment Law applies. Because the General County Assessment Law requires the use of the appeal filing date as the valuation date, the Court held that an assessment appeal in Allegheny County must use for the date of valuation the date on which the appeal is filed.

In making this pronouncement, the Court appended a cryptic footnote in which it suggested that the use of the appeal filing date as the valuation date might violate the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court noted that the use of the appeal filing date results in a system where those taxpayers who file appeals have one valuation date, while those that do not have a different valuation date. The Court did not consider this issue further, as neither party had raised the issue on appeal. But, it seems unlikely that a violation of the Uniformity Clause would occur as different value dates would be normalized by application of the common level ratio, resulting in uniform assessment values.

After disposing of the school district’s claims regarding the date of valuation, the Court next considered whether the trial court gave sufficient reasons in support of its determination of value for the 2011 tax year. In holding that the trial court had failed to do so, the Court noted that only the school district had submitted an opinion of value of the property for 2011. In such “single expert” cases, the trial court has a duty to clearly state its reasons for departing from the expert’s valuation, and the trial court’s decision, which offered no explanation for its departure from the valuation in the school district’s appraisal, failed to meet this duty. Therefore, the Court vacated and remanded the trial court’s decision with respect to the determination of value for the 2011 tax year, and instructed the trial court to give reasons why it departed from the evidence in the record.

Macy’s, Inc. v. Bd. of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review of Allegheny County, __ A.3d __, No. 373 C.D. 2011 (Commw. Ct. January 22, 2013).