Local Tax Enabling Act


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Comprehensive taxing authority similar to the Sterling Act was extended to other political subdivisions by Act 481 of 1947. Because of its uniqueness in granting this measure of taxing authority to so many political subdivisions, it quickly became known as the Tax Anything law. The original act applied to all school districts, except Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, to all cities except Philadelphia, and to all boroughs and first class townships. The act was extended to second class townships several years later. The original act excluded from local taxing power subjects of taxation preempted by state taxation, but otherwise had few restrictions. It contained no limits on the rates of specific taxes, but limited the overall yield to the equivalent of the maximum permissible real estate tax yield for that class of subdivision. Act 481 was repealed and reenacted by Act 511 of 1965, the Local Tax Enabling Act.
When originally enacted in 1947, it was conceived as an emergency measure to help solve the financial problems of local governments. Both of the original elements of the Act - its temporary nature and its broad delegation of taxing power have been lost. The taxes authorized by the Act have become permanent sources of revenue for local governments, in some cases exceeding the return from real estate taxes.
The broad general taxing power of the original law has been increasingly circumscribed by legislative amendments and court decisions to the point where the Act is now primarily an express grant of power to levy certain taxes with maximum rates set by the legislature. The enabling language is still there, and from time to time new tax sources are identified and used. For example the General Assembly prohibited the residential construction tax in 1981. Constraints continue to be added to the law, such as prohibiting the levy of amusement taxes on memberships to fitness clubs in 1987. Taxes commonly levied under the Act are the earned income, per capita, realty transfer, business gross receipts, amusement, occupational privilege and occupation taxes. The Act also authorizes an intangible personal property tax for the city of Pittsburgh. These taxes are defined somewhat through listing of rate limits found in the Act, through similar taxes authorized by other laws, and through the widespread practice of using other units ordinances as models in enacting the taxes. Section 13 contains standard definitions for the earned income tax, superseding any contrary definitions in local earned income tax ordinances.
Numerous restrictions on taxing power have been written into the Local Tax Enabling Act. These include prohibitions against taxation of natural resources and farm products, taxation of manufacturing, taxation of public utilities or their services, taxation of nonresidents income by school districts and taxation of the same subjects levied under state taxes. The issues of state preemption and the manufacturing exclusion have generated the most legal controversy, mainly in delineating the scope of business gross receipts taxes. Increasingly, limitations on Act 511 taxes are enacted into other laws. The Second Class City Law prohibits Pittsburgh from levying the business gross receipts tax on financial services businesses; Act 50 of 1998 freezes amusement taxes for school districts and reduces the maximum rate for amusement taxes newly enacted by municipalities. The aggregate of all local taxes levied under the Local Tax Enabling Act may not exceed the equivalent of twelve mills times the market value of real estate within the taxing district.4 The original Act in 1947 set a limit based on the maximum permissible real estate levy. The limit was later changed to a uniform ten mills of market value, then raised to fifteen mills, then set at twelve mills of market value. This aggregate limit has never been a serious constraint on local taxing bodies levying taxes within the limits set in the Act. 5