A Better Way: Tax Land, Not Buildings
[A letter printed in the
Des Moines Register, 21 December, 2004. Reprinted from GroundSwell,
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
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
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.