The property tax is probably the most controversial tax in the U.S., subject to limits, caps and rebellions of various kinds. But reliable data on the property tax across the U.S. has been hard to come by all in one place, especially after the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations stopped publishing in 1996. Two years ago, the Lincoln Institute stepped in to provide a one-stop clearinghouse on public finance and the property tax, and just recently this database was improved and updated.
Significant Features of the Property Tax is a comprehensive database and resource center on property tax systems in all fifty states and the District of Columbia, and includes tax fundamentals covering tax rates, tax limits, taxable personal property, real estate transfer charges, and tax incentive programs.
Users can search these items for any state or group of states and download the results. Significant Features supplies statutory citations, links to official sites, and even a permanent archive of state material, to allow access to records even after the official state Web site changes. Users can also download state summaries that display all characteristics of a specific state’s property tax system in a given year.
All of this information has been meticulously updated, and data is now available for 2006, 2007, and 2008. Also provided is access to U.S. Census of Governments figures on the property tax in the context of state and local finances. This data is available for 1992, 2002, and 2005.
New features and resources now enrich Significant Features by offering links to property tax research and analysis. For example, the Minnesota Taxpayers Association (MTA) prepares an annual comparative study of effective property tax rates across the country. This leading review of actual property tax burdens, formerly available only by purchase from the MTA, now can be read and downloaded free of charge.
Another continually updated feature has also been added: “Ask a property tax expert,” with responses by John H. Bowman, professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University. The current question is whether the property tax should be eliminated or replaced by an income or sales tax.
Because accurate data provide the critical foundation for sound governmental decision-making, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the George Washington Institute of Public Policy joined in a partnership to provide information and support public policy concerning the property tax. The site takes its name from Significant Features of Fiscal Federalism, the flagship publication of the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, which from 1959 to 1996 provided a wealth of research on the functioning of the federal system. Making data available free of charge is a fundamental part of the mission of the Lincoln Institute.
The site is organized in these major categories:
-- Property Tax Fundamentals, covering real and personal properties that are taxed, basic and differential local property tax rates, local jurisdictions’ use of transfer charges when properties change hands, and limits placed by states on local jurisdictions’ authority to use the property tax.
-- The Property Tax Base, including information on assessed values by property class, valuation standards, and assessment ratios.
-- Property Tax Relief and Incentive Programs offering information onstate programs to encourage particular land uses, or provide property tax relief to selected classes of landowners. Property tax relief programs are grouped according to their objectives and structure, such as programs intended to provide relief to homeowners, encourage economic development, and encourage preservation of farmland and open space.
-- State Summaries, allowing users to display all data on a given state’s property tax system for a specific year.
The Census Data section displays statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau's Census of Governments on the property tax in the context of state and local finances. Data for the years 2005, 2002, and 1992 are reported for state and local governments combined, and for state governments and local governments separately. For each year and each set of governments, data are presented for each revenue source in nominal dollars, as a share of all revenues, per capita, and as a percent of personal income.