Introduction to the Property Tax

Introduction to the Property Tax presents resources designed to promote understanding of basic property tax functions and their importance as a revenue source for local government. Explainer videos explore the mechanics of how the property tax works and use real life examples to demonstrate the significance of the property tax in government finance. Other publications discuss considerations for policymakers and clarify certain important aspects of property taxation.


Property Tax 101: Why the Property Tax

Why is the property tax the bulwark of local government finance? What is the role of state aid in a healthy property tax system? This video explores these questions and more through the experiences of two Massachusetts municipalities with very different socioeconomic makeups: Arlington and Lawrence.

Property Tax 101: The Mechanics

This explainer video walks through the mechanics of how the property tax works and why it is stable and effective.


Property Taxes: What Everybody Needs to Know
Ronald C. Fisher

The property tax is the largest single source of revenue under the control of state or local governments in the United States. Property taxes provide a fundamental fiscal foundation for all types of local governments, but structural characteristics that make the property tax different from other types of taxes can lead to confusion and misunderstanding. This paper helps to inform the public about the property tax by examining its importance to local governments, how the property tax impacts homeowners, and how property tax burdens are distributed.

Property Tax Relief for Homeowners
Adam H. Langley and Joan Youngman

This report is the go-to resource on the options that U.S. states have to provide property tax relief for homeowners without compromising municipal fiscal health or services. Policy makers frequently face political pressure to reduce property taxes, but many approaches undercut the success of adopted policies. The authors present the pros and cons of measures that can effectively provide relief without undermining the property tax system. By covering the full range of policies, this report is relevant in practically any state policy debate about property tax relief. This report will be an essential resource for state legislators, governors, students of public finance, and policy makers who help make decisions about property tax relief.

Online Courses

Successful Property Tax Reform: The Case of Massachusetts

This course examines the deep problems of the Massachusetts property tax in the 1970s and the subsequent reforms that created one of the most functional and fair systems in the United States. Course modules explore the state of the property tax system prior to reform; events leading up to the tax revolt and the assessment reforms; and elements of the reform that resulted in the state’s current well-functioning property tax system.

Foundations of Local Government Finance in the United States

This online, self-paced course provides an overview of how local governments in the U.S. raise and spend money. It illuminates the often-misunderstood system by which communities pay for public services and infrastructure—from schools to clean water to sidewalks—that are foundational to a high quality of life. Relevant modules include: Overview of Local Revenues (Module 3); The Property Tax (Module 4); and Economic Development (Module 5).

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