Most Americans know that property taxes pay for the public schools, police and fire departments, and services like trash pickup and road repairs, but why are those things funded through what one economics expert considers a relic of the colonial era.
The issue arose in connection with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s call for a wealth tax on assets above $50 million. During an interview with Chris Hayes on MSNBC, Warren claimed her wealth tax was a brand new idea in America.
Hayes gently corrected her, noting that all homeowners already pay a wealth tax.
“It’s brand new, although I will note to people out there who own a home, you’re paying a wealth tax right now called property taxes. So it does exist in America,” said Hayes.
But should it? Longtime economic author and columnist John Steele Gordon says property taxes belong on the ash heap of history.
“It’s a very inefficient way of raising revenues for the government. For one thing, how much is a given property worth? Well, you really only know that when it is sold,” said Gordon.
He says property taxes made a lot more sense around the time of our nation’s founding because property value was closely linked to income.
“In colonial days, almost all properties were income-producing. They were farms or they were stores. Today, almost all properties are income absorbing. They’re houses,” said Gordon.
Gordon’s biggest complaint is that property taxes are regressive and can wallop people making far less than their neighbors.
“Say you retire and your income goes down 40 percent. Well, your property taxes don’t. That seems hardly fair,” said Gordon.
So why do property taxes still exist?
“It’s sheer laziness. It’s there. It’s always been there. The mechanism is in place. Every town has its assessor and its grievance board. Therefore, it’s just easier to let it go on rather than come up with a more efficient system,” said Gordon.
Listen to the full podcast to learn what Gordon thinks would be a much better and fairer alternative to property taxes and how former late night host David Letterman figures into his call to abolish property taxes.