We need to update land assessments

December 20, 2013

Steve Hyle's email, printed Dec. 13 points out some peculiarities of our tax structure, and suggests that we are capable of "attempting to tax anything that moves or doesn't move."

In 1871, a wise Tennessee businessman named Enoch Ensley wrote to his governor a long letter which included a wise maxim:

Never Tax Anything
That Would Be of Value to Your State,
That Could and Would Run Away, or
That Could and Would Come to You.

In 1880, Philadelphia-born Henry George published a landmark book entitled "Progress and Poverty."  It became the No. 2 bestseller of the last 20 years of that century (second only to the Bible), and its thesis was that a wise and just society would base its tax system on taxes on the value of land, collecting the lion's share of the annual rental value of land, and eliminating taxes on buildings, imports, sales, wages and other things which go away when taxed.

George's ideas were widely understood and discussed and embraced.  They inspired the woman who created (1902) The Landlord's Game, the predecessor to the 1930's game Monopoly. They weren't, however, popular with those who endowed the universities, and others in a position of power, and they've largely disappeared from college and university curricula - though not from the best economics textbooks.

We'd be wise not to tax buildings or other improvements - including solar panels (whether owned or leased).  We ought to be basing our property taxes on 2014 land values, instead of land values from the 1980s or before.

Taxpayers' investment in infrastructure such as the Coastal Highway, as well as consumer preference for waterfront has increased the value of coastal land far more quickly than the value of inland value has increased, and our ancient assessments do not reflect that.  We ought to be updating our land assessments every few years. (Valuing land well is not all that expensive.)

Near-the-coast sites are often far more valuable than even the newer homes built on them, but you'd never know that from our assessments.

Wyn Achenbaum
Rehoboth Beach

blog: ... 
LVT -- Land Value Taxation -- the only tax system worthy of a fan club!
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