The Federal Equal Protection Clause In Taxing Laws

The general legal principles governing a challenge to the constitutionality of a tax statute are well established. A tax enactment is presumed valid and the burden of proving otherwise rests on the challenger. The legislature has wide discretion in matters of taxation but nevertheless is constrained by the requirements of due process and equal protection or uniformity. In Leventhal v. Philadelphia, 518 Pa. 233, 542 A.2d 1328 (1988), the Supreme Court explained: Both the federal equal protection clause, as applied to taxing statutes, and the state constitutional requirement of uniformity of taxation "upon the same class of subjects" (Pa. Const. Art VIII, 1) mandate that classification in a taxing scheme have a rational basis. In either case, a classification for tax purposes is valid when it "is based upon some legitimate distinction between the classes that provides a non-arbitrary and 'reasonable and just' basis for the different treatment." Where there exists no legitimate distinction between the classes, and thus, the tax scheme imposes substantially unequal tax burdens upon persons otherwise similarly situated, the tax is unconstitutional. The controlling standard for determining whether a tax is violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment ". . . is whether the taxing power exerted by the state bears a fiscal relation to protection, opportunities and benefits given by the state. The simple question is whether the state has given anything for which it can ask a return." Where the benefit received and the burden imposed is palpably disproportionate, a tax is not only a taking without due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution but also an arbitrary form of classification in violation of equal protection and state uniformity standards. Id. at 239-40, 542 A.2d at 1331-32. See also Bold Corp., 569 Pa. at 116, 801 A.2d at 474.