A Better Way: Tax Land, Not Buildings

Joshua Vincent


[A letter printed in the Des Moines Register, 21 December, 2004. Reprinted from GroundSwell, January-February 2005]


As the director of a foundation that has been helping cities with property-tax issues since 1926, I applaud officials seeing a problem in the Rube Goldberg affair that is the Iowa property tax ("Cities, Counties Detail Property-Tax Ideas," Dec. 8)

One aspect of the plan should be supported and expanded, the others appear to be more springs, coils and ladders of an unwieldy contraption.

Taxing land as oposed to buildings should be the goal for all Iowa urban areas. Taxing land means those that don't build -- or refuse to sell to someone who will - - pay their fair share for hogging city services.

Untaxing buildings provides a real, permanent abatement for what Iowa's towns and cities need: tax-free economic development.

Instead of just for non-profits, this program should be made available for all property owners in towns and cities.

As practiced in cities such as Allentown and Harrisburg in Pennsylvania, land taxation has meant lower taxes for homeowners and productive businesses, and an increased tax base. Revenue-neutrality is maintained.

Land with infrastructure must be used at its highest and best use. If it isn't we get sprawl and more expensive farmland.

One attraction of land taxation is its simplicity; unlike the cities' and counties' plan, all properties are assessed at the same percentage. Period. No more gymnastic formulas to sort out winners, losers and also- rans.



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