Effects of Tax Policies on Land Use

CED-78-97: Published: Apr 28, 1978. Publicly Released: Apr 28, 1978.

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There has been an increasing awareness in the United States that taxation may play an important role in influencing land use. This awareness includes a recognition of certain undesirable consequences of past Federal, State, or local tax policies and practices. Although there is no single overall Federal policy on the use of public or private land, the Federal Government has a special interest in the effect of taxes on land use.

One of the most important sources of State and local revenues is property taxes which generally consists of a dual tax levied on the land and its improvements. The present system of property taxation tends to overtax improvements and undertax land. This provides a disincentive to maintain or improve urban property or develop urban land to its highest use. Property taxes on agricultural land, if assessed on the basis of potential market value, can be a heavy burden on the owner. A 1973 study showed, in several cities, a systematic overassessment of properties in blighted and declining neighborhoods and an underassessment of properties in stable and improving neighborhoods. The study concluded that the most urgent property tax reform is to equalize effective tax rates across neighborhoods within the same city to share the costs of public services more evenly and not penalize deteriorating neighborhoods. Major issues that need to be dealt with include: a need for coordinated action by all concerned Federal agencies to harmonize tax policies with national policy objectives, identification of inconsistencies between tax provisions and specific national goals and programs, and development of alternative strategies to achieve national objectives.

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