Taxation of Business Property: Is Uniformity Still a Valid Norm?

By John H. Bowman; Frederick D. Stocker | Go to book overview

It is necessary to ask fundamental questions about the nature of the political system in considering whether this development has been a good one. Is the political system of this country able to make decisions about the distribution of the tax burden that are better (from whatever perspective) than the decisions resulting from a uniformity rule? Those who wrote state constitutions in the nineteenth century overwhelmingly answered the question in the negative, but after years of administrative failure, a long, irregular, cyclical retreat from that position has brought us to the present situation. Perhaps we will reach a point at which a return to the uniform taxation of real estate or some other broadly defined class of property can contribute to reducing the political stress that currently surrounds property taxation. The income tax revision of 1986 shows that the multiplication of special exemptions and relief provisions can become so politically unpopular that a movement toward a broader base and the accompanying lower rates is possible.

In any case, those who want to change the property tax need to remember the system aspects of tax policy. A change may set off a series of events that will result in changes in other policies and even in the political system itself. Predicting the outcomes of these is more of an art than a science, but time spent on such problems might be a better use of resources than are some of the detailed analyses of tax policy that fill the academic journals.


NOTES
1.
The author does not know of a comprehensive study of the subject, but it has been true in several cases of which he has some knowledge.
2.
Early property tax statutes were largely concerned with the mechanics of tax administration and the foreclosure process. Little space was devoted to defining value or assessment standards.

-91-

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