Tax break for seniors languishes

Jun 02, 2015

For three years, I have introduced an Allegheny County Council resolution to freeze the elderly poor's property tax, as does Philadelphia County. Although the bill was introduced into committee, neither council President John DeFazio nor Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Michael Finnerty will allow the bill to be discussed or voted on.

The bill urges the General Assembly to allow Allegheny County to enact legislation for implementation of a property-tax freeze for qualifying senior citizens. It would allow for the forgiveness of real-property tax liability for certain low-income seniors.

The General Assembly granted Philadelphia the authority to enact a senior tax freeze. Many seniors in Allegheny County live on the edge of poverty and do not qualify for the senior tax abatement.

The bill was referred to the Government Reform Committee and expired in 2013, never having been called up. I reintroduced the bill in 2014, but again it was never discussed or voted on.

On Sept. 9, I filed a bill to pull the resolution from the committee to be considered by council as a whole and voted up or down. My motion was defeated.

In 2015, I filed another such bill. The vote was 6-6 but failed as a tie. Two weeks later, I tried again.

On April 7, council members Jan Rea, Edward Kress, James Ellenbogen, Finnerty, Nick Futules, Bob Macey, Charles Martoni, John Palmiere and DeFazio voted “no” again.

On April 17, I tried again. I just want a vote on the merits of a bill introduced in 2012. Finnerty asked to be recognized. “It's in committee ... . It hasn't been released.” DeFazio agreed and asked for a ruling from solicitor Jack Cambest.

He came prepared with a lengthy statement prior to his ruling. He admitted there was no specific rule in Roberts Rules of Order that deals with voting more than once to pull a bill from committee. However, he held that attempts to do so on multiple occasions were dilatory.

Roberts Rules state that dilatory motions include only those misused with the purpose of obstructing business. I just want the bill to be discussed!

My last attempt was on May 20. Council had only 14 members due to the passing of member Barbara Daly Danko. This time, the vote was 7-6 for, with one abstention. Because the abstention acted as a “no” vote, the vote was a tie and the bill lost.

I have utilized every single avenue available to simply discuss freezing property taxes for the elderly poor.

County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald regularly calls me “an obstructionist.” Before every single council meeting, the two caucuses meet separately to discuss agenda items. The executive attends every single Democrat legislative caucus meeting and instructs the members which bills will be assigned and discussed.

While the bill is stalled in committee, the elderly poor wait.

Heather Heidelbaugh

The writer, a Mt. Lebanon Republican, is an at-large member of Allegheny County Council.