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Raja Was Right (Sort of)

By Ali Carey, Contributing Writer

To Allegheny County voters: Raja told you so.

Before his 24 point defeat last Tuesday, the Republican warned that higher property taxes lay in store for residents if they voted for Democrat Rich Fitzgerald.

He was proven right quickly. The state Supreme Court ordered the county to reassess because it said the property values are so obsolete that the tax bills they determine are unconstitutionally inaccurate.

This week, Fitzgerald announced his support of a plan by the 11-4 Democratic majority on County Council to reassess property values, effectively equating to a tax increase of 21 percent.

During the campaign Raja repeatedly accused Fitzgerald of misleading voters on the tax issue, for example during a September debate hoisted by KDKA.

“I’m proud of the fact that we haven’t reassessed since 2002,” Fitzgerald said at the time. “Raja says he wants to fix it. By fixing it that he means he wants reassess. I want to keep it like it is.”

Fitzegerald emphasized that during his 12-year tenure on the council, the body never raised property taxes. He never directly said he would oppose any and all future tax increases.

Now, Fitzgerald says that the county cannot wait any longer for updated property tax values before creating a budget.

“We need to run the jail, pave roads, everything county government does,” he said. “So we need to set a proper millage based on our current values, so those are the values we’re going to be using and what we’re going to set the millage on.”

The optics earned the incoming Exec a rebuke from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which endorsed his campaign, in an editorial titled “Bait and Switch.”

Raja blasted Fitzgerald for not being up front during the campaign about considering raising taxes.

“He ran on a low-tax platform,” Raja told the Tribune-Review. “This is very much a shocker to me, given that it’s less than a week from the election date. To me, it’s almost like a bait-and-switch because I never heard him say he would increase taxes one time.”

In fairness, both candidates made some tall promises during the campaign. Raja himself took lumps during the campaign for his unclear position on how to generate county revenues. In its endorsement of Fitzgerald, the Post Gazette Editorial Board wrote:

“When pressed on how he’d make up the lost revenue from the drink tax, about $27 million a year, Mr. Raja says he’ll find [savings in county programs]. But the next executive is going to have to find savings in those areas just to balance the county budget, let alone cover the elimination of a tax.”

The Democratic majority on County Council opposes outgoing Executive Dan Onorato’s plan, which they say avoids tax increases by cutting education and child welfare funding.  The Democrats are just one veto short of a veto-proof majority if Onorato opposes the plan.

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