Our prevailing property tax system rewards those who sit on valuable land and leave it idle, while punishing with higher taxes those who put it to productive use. And for that, our buddy the speculator just wants to say, "Thanks, neighbor."
Taxing land rather than improvements is a good idea whose time has come. Why aren’t more places already doing it? And how can you make the case for it in your city?
In cities all over America, we deter people from revitalizing neighborhoods by punishing them with higher taxes for improving their property. A change in how we tax property could fix these incentives.
Since 1913, Pennsylvania has allowed cities to tax land at a higher rate than buildings. This decision has led to some unique success stories: cities that have weathered post-industrial decline and revitalized their urban cores.
Even the fastest-growing cities have them: under-utilized lots in the center of town whose owners don’t want to develop, but also don’t want to sell. Often, the property tax code rewards this kind of land speculation.
The property tax punishes modest improvements and rewards steady decline. People who take steps to add value to their property pay more taxes, while slumlords and speculators pay less. There are a lot of reasons for cities to switch to a tax on land value, and more states should allow cities to make that change.