Allegheny County controller calls foul on move to amend state constitution

Published by Andrew McGill on .

Tomorrow at 10 a.m., the state Senate finance committee will vote on a seemingly innocuous bill that would amend the state constitution to empower the legislature to set the requirements for becoming a purely public charity.

Purely public charities including UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh, etc. Ever hear of 'em?

This vote would be routine if it weren't for that a) there have been no hearings, as the Harrisburg Patriot-News' John Micek reports, and b) the amendment could sharply cut the power of local municipalities to determine who deserves tax-exempt status, as Allegheny County has pledged to review.

With that in mind, County Controller Chelsa Wagner sent some shots over the Senate's bow this morning, writing in a news release that Senate Bill 4 "should not even be on the radar."

"This obscure bill tramples the autonomy of local governments," Ms. Wagner wrote. "This would be the farthest reaching constitutional amendment in my lifetime with a negative impact on every taxpayer and local government in the Commonwealth."

Last year, Ms. Wagner asked for a review of non-profits in the county, contending the administration hadn't checked back with charities it took off the tax rolls year ago.

In January, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced he would send notices to every tax-exempt non-government property and request documentation backing up their charity statuses.

Nearly 25 percent of property in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia is tax-exempt, Ms. Wagner said.


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