Voters and legislators in two very red states, Oklahoma and North Dakota, have recently defeated conservative initiatives to eliminate important taxes. Among some Republicans, there seems to be a realization of the need to pay taxes to fund essential services like schools and police and firemen, and of the need to find other sources of revenue once a given tax is repealed.
Old cities in the Northeast often have high concentrations of non-profit, tax exempt properties such as universities, hospitals and churches. Cities generally receive the bulk of their revenues through property taxation, so for cities with high concentrations of tax exempt properties the tax base can be considerably diminished. Ryan Delaney of WRVO, a public-radio station in upstate New York, reports that Syracuse has an astonishing 56 percent of city properties exempted from property taxes. Delaney drills down into a current fight over tax exemption for a proposed development project. The fight shows how property-tax exemptions are growing and can be just a mask for private development and profit. From Innovationtrails.org:
In a series of decisions that may affect healthcare nationally, Illinois is tightening the noose on hospitals that claim tax-exempt, non-profit status. What began as the denial of a property tax exemption by the Champaign County Board of Review for one hospital system in 2002 has become a state-wide analysis of how much actual “charity care” hospitals are providing.
In addition to federal taxes, Americans are responsible for paying state and local sales, personal income and property taxes, and a variety of fees for the use of their cars, sewer systems and water systems. Although approximately 47 percent of the population pays no federal income tax, those people do contribute to public safety, education and welfare through their state and local taxes (and, it should be noted, also pay federal payroll taxes). Across the nation, sales taxes bring in about one-third of state revenues, personal income tax revenues bring in another third, and a variety of other taxes and fees make up the balance.
Municipalities across the country are looking to local non-profits to pay for their share of community services. These payments, known as PILOTs, or “payments in lieu of taxes,” are voluntarily contributed by private schools, hospitals and other non-profits as an alternative to paying property taxes. As cities come under more fiscal stress, this will be a growing trend.
The latest S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, released yesterday, wasn’t pretty. Housing values continued to fall, their 5th consecutive year-on-year decline. (You can download the data here). The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland had this to say about the release:
Kelly Nolan of the Wall Street Journal reported today that property-tax revenues have been off for two consecutive quarters. When you look at the numbers, though, you can see it’s not really off by that much, especially given the state of home prices. Here is the change in the data reported by the U.S. Census Bureau: