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Rethinking local government reliance on the property tax

  • Alm, James
  • Buschman, Robert D.
  • Sjoquist, David L.

Historically, local governments in the United States have relied on the property tax as one of their main sources of own-source revenues. However, the recent collapse of housing prices and the resulting negative impact on local government budgets suggest that it may be opportune to rethink this strategy. In this paper we document the overall decline in property values in the United States in recent years, and we find that the impact is in the aggregate negative but that the impact varies significantly by state and by locality. We also examine the impact on local government revenues, and we again find substantial regional and local variation. Indeed, our data indicate that substantial numbers of local governments seem to have avoided the significant and negative budgetary impacts seen most clearly for state and federal governments, at least to date. We then focus specifically on the State of Georgia, in order to determine the ways in which local governments have responded to the economic recession. Our empirical analyses indicate that there are several factors causing changes in property tax revenues, but the dominant factor is changes in housing prices, with some significant lags. We conclude that local government reliance on the property tax has in fact been an advantage for many local governments in the current economic environment, and that such reliance is likely to - and should - continue in at least some form for the immediate future.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Regional Science and Urban Economics.

Volume (Year): 41 (2011)
Issue (Month): 4 (July)
Pages: 320-331

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Handle: RePEc:eee:regeco:v:41:y:2011:i:4:p:320-331
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/regec

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