Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Revalue Revaluation

Many problems facing Rhode Island taxpayers appear to be self inflicted.  For example, the huge deficits in union pension funds. City officials, taxpayers and union leaders ignored obvious funding deficiencies for many years creating crushing deficits that now threaten to bankrupt local communities.  Everyone loses yet we continue to do it.
One would expect that pocketbook issues producing increasing tax burdens would inspire taxpayers to act in their own best interest, but it doesn't seem to happen.  Why?
Revaluation might be partly to blame.  Revaluation to market values is considered a necessary part of the Property Tax because it is expected that it will distribute taxes fairly. Revaluation does ensure that a new owner will pay a fair tax on the property just purchased but is it also fair for the majority of taxpayers? Perhaps not.
With every revaluation there are many taxpayers who will receive tax increases but also many who will not. Think about it;  this means that just some, not all, taxpayers shoulder the full burden of any tax increase. And they aren't necessarily the owners of the more expensive homes or the wealthiest in the community. Those increases are just as likely to fall on the backs of owners of lower priced homes. That's just how real estate markets work.
Looking more closely at the data we find that the total increase paid by all these taxpayers exceeds the total tax levy increase, often by millions of dollars!  Thus, not only are these taxpayers paying the entire tax increase for their community but they are also paying for the lower taxes enjoyed by the other property owners! And tax roll data show that those with lower bills are just as likely to be owners of the most expensive properties. That's just how real estate markets work.  
In fact, revaluation disconnects our tax bills from the tax levies they are supposed to support. Despite increased local expenses, many thousands of taxpayers get lower bills, and when people don't feel the financial pain, they simply don't care! 
This presents a dilemma for local government: how to combine the fair tax a new owner receives after a revaluation with a fair tax for everyone else that's in harmony with the needs of the community, the tax levy. See one idea to address this problem at http://righttax.org.
And if we can involve all taxpayers fairly and reasonably it might even lead to better government overall.