Based on the last several years of referendum voting, it appears most Americans are willing to pay for the acquisition of conservation land. But the details of how to do that -- with an increase on the sales tax, for example -- have been less clear. H. Spencer Banzhaf and Wallace E. Oates made a major contribution to the literature with Lincoln Institute-supported research on a large database compiled by the Land Trust Alliance and the Trust for Public Land, covering all known U.S. referenda for acquisition of open space between 1998 and 2006.
The resulting paper, "On Fiscal Illusion in Local Public Finance: Re-Examining Ricardian Equivalence and the Renter Effect", appearing in the National Tax Journal in September, analyzed the votes and found a pervasive preference at the local level for debt finance rather than tax funding for open space -- and found no evidence that renters prefer sales tax financing over property tax financing. It is often thought that renters may prefer property tax funding, since they do not receive property tax bills, although they may actually bear some of the economic burden of the property tax through increased rents.
Oates, a former board member for the Lincoln Institute, and Banzhaf won the Richard Musgrave Award for best article published this year in the National Tax Journal, at the National Tax Association conference in Tampa last month. A Lincoln Institute delegation including senior fellow Joan Youngman, John Anderson, Richard Dye, Daphne Kenyon, Adam Langley, Andy Reschovsky, and Sally Powers was in attendance.