Property Tax Policies in Transitional Economies

Ann LeRoyer and Jane Malme, July 1, 1997

In the context of entirely new fiscal policies and new approaches to property rights in central and eastern Europe over the past decade, taxes on land and buildings have taken on significant new roles—politically as adjuncts to privatization, restitution and decentralization, and fiscally as revenue-raising tools for local governments.

The Lincoln Institute is particularly interested in the complex debate over property-based taxes and in how different countries experience the transition from communism to democracy and from planned to market-driven economies. Over the past four years, the Institute has undertaken a series of educational programs to help public officials and business leaders in eastern Europe understand both underlying principles and practical examples of property taxation and valuation through offering varied perspectives and frameworks for decision making.

The Institute is also sponsoring a series of case studies to compare the implementation of ad valorem property tax systems in eastern European countries. These studies provide a unique perspective from which to review the initiation of land privatization, fiscal decentralization and land markets, as well as to compare the various legal and administrative features adopted for the respective tax systems.

Programs in Estonia

The Baltic country of Estonia was the first of the new independent states to recognize the benefits of land taxation and thus has been the focus of several Lincoln Institute programs. The Institute’s work in Estonia began in September 1993 when Fellow Jane Malme and Senior Fellow Joan Youngman participated in a conference with the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the design of a property taxation system. Estonia had just instituted its land tax program, and since then the Institute has continued to support programs there relating to land reform and property taxation.

The most recent education program, on “Land and Tax Policies for Urban Markets in Estonia,” was presented in the capital of Tallinn in May to nearly 30 senior-level state and city officials interested in public finance, land reform and urban development. President H. James Brown, Jane Malme, Joan Youngman and a faculty of international experts explored current issues concerning land reform, valuation and taxation. They also discussed methods of urban planning, land management and taxation to both encourage development of urban land markets and finance local governments.

Estonia is also serving as the pilot case study for a survey instrument to gather and analyze information from countries adopting new fiscal instruments for market-based economies. Malme and Youngman are working closely with Tambet Tiits, director of a private real estate research and consulting firm in Tallinn, to draft the survey, research and collect data, and analyze the results.

Other Case Studies and Conferences

A second case study examines Poland, where an ad valorem property tax law is under legislative consideration. Dr. Jan Brzeski, director of the Cracow Real Estate Institute, serves as the country research director and liaison with the Institute. Subsequent studies will survey Latvia, Lithuania and Russia. In addition, Professors Gary Cornia and Phil Bryson of the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University in Utah are using the Lincoln Institute survey instrument to study property tax systems in the Czech and Slovak Republics.

The Lincoln Institute was a sponsor of the fourth international conference on local taxation and property valuation of the London-based Institute of Revenues, Rating and Valuation (IRRV) in Rome in early June. The conference attracts about 300 senior level officials from central as well as local governments throughout Europe. Dennis Robinson, Lincoln Institute vice president for programs and operations, was on the conference advisory committee and chaired a session on “Case Studies in Local Taxation in the New Democracies,” at which Jane Malme and Joan Youngman discussed the Institute’s case studies on land and building taxation in transitional economies. Other participants in that session were Institute associates Tambit Tiits of Estonia and Jan Brzeski of Poland. Board member Gary Cornia spoke about his research on property taxation in the Czech Republic. Martim Smolka, senior fellow for Latin America and the Caribbean, presented a paper on “Urban Land Management and Value Capture” at another session chaired by Joan Youngman. Jane Malme also was a discussion leader for a session on “Tax Collection and Administration.”

The Institute is planning another program with OECD in December 1997 for public officials and practitioners in the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to examine policy aspects of land valuation and mass appraisal concepts for ad valorem taxation.