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Preferential Property Tax Treatment of Land

Jane Malme

January 1993, English

The use of the property tax as an instrument of land use policy is now well established throughout the United States. Rising real estate prices combined with concerns about the patterns of urban growth, the adequacy of food supply for a growing population, the quality of the natural environment and the changing social fabric placed pressure on the public sector to prevent the increasing loss of agricultural, forest and open lands. In rapid succession, beginning in 1956 in Maryland, state legislatures adopted preferential property tax programs for various land uses in answer to these concerns. This report reviews the objectives of these programs, summarizes the literature commenting on the effectiveness of preferential taxation to achieve its intended goals, and describes the current preferential tax programs for agricultural, forest, open space, recreational and other vacant land uses in the United States. It is hoped this information will serve to strengthen the administration of these programs and form a basis for their reexamination to reflect the changing conditions since these measures were first adopted.