Political Economy of Property Tax Reform: Hawaii’s Experiment with Split Rate Property Taxation
Economic theory suggests that switching from a general property tax to a split-rate tax increases land use efficiency and stimulates urban core development while preserving the environment and reducing urban sprawl. Under split-rate property taxation, land is typically taxed at a significantly higher rate than improvements. Beginning in 1965 Hawaii experimented with a statewide split-rate property tax system to encourage economic growth and effect land reform. The experiment was ended in 1977. Following the transfer of property taxing powers to the counties in 1978, some counties brought back the split-rate property tax at times. Since 2006, Kauai County has adopted the unusual practice of taxing improvements at a higher rate than land for most property classes. This paper chronicles and explains the rationale behind Hawaii state and county experiments with split rate property taxation.
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