Residents in many states continue to grumble about property tax bills, and elected officials are heeding the call to reform. But the property tax actually puts residents in the driver's seat in terms of the level of services they are willing to pay for. That was the theme of an op-ed essay by Joan Youngman, senior fellow and chair of the Lincoln Institute's Department of Valuation and Taxation, and visiting fellow Andrew Reschovsky, published recently in The Boston Globe.
"We get the bill, and compare it with the local services we receive. If the comparison is unfavorable, we are motivated to restrict local spending and support local candidates who agree with that view. Linking additional local spending to local taxes is an important source of fiscal discipline," the authors wrote. "By contrast, few taxpayers have any idea of the amount they spend annually on sales taxes. Even income taxes that are withheld from paychecks are less visible than bills that must be paid in one or two large installments every year. The transparency of the property tax allows taxpayers to be engaged and to evaluate the performance of their local government to make independent decisions on the mix of taxes and services they prefer."
The property tax continues to be a focus of Lincoln Institute research, including an upcoming Policy Focus Report on the use of property tax revenue to fund schools. In addition, Barry Bluestone, director of the Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, will give a talk at Lincoln House Nov. 2 on the dependence on property tax revenues in older industrial cities.