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Archive for the ‘Property Tax’ Category

I’m in Milan, at the office of the Institute Bruno Leoni, which overlooks the famous Castle Sforza and is almost within shouting distance of the remarkable cathedral.

This evening, I’ll be talking about how Italy should balance its budget by limiting the size of government, and my message will be identical to the one I give American policymakers. Restraining spending is the only pro-growth way of lowering red ink.

Italy actually has a smaller budget deficit than the United States according to OECD data, so that should make their job easier. On the other hand, the economy seems permanently stagnant, so revenues are projected to climb by an average of only 3.5 percent annually (compared to 7 percent in the United States).

Here are the specific numbers. The Italian budget this year is about €822 billion, while revenues are estimated to be about €752 billion. If the budget is frozen at current levels, the deficit disappears within three years. If spending grows by 1 percent each year, the budget is balanced in 2015. And if spending is allowed to grow only 2 percent annually, there is a surplus in 2017. If lawmakers can maintain fiscal discipline in subsequent years, they can begin to reduce the public debt.

This last point is important because Italian politicians are actually considering proposals to either levy a temporary property tax or a temporary tax on all assets, supposedly for the purpose of reducing the nation’s debt.

Some economists might argue that one-off taxes on assets are an efficient way of collecting revenue. After all, taxes on assets punish income that already was earned and do not punish earning income today or in the future. That is true, but such a tax would represent a blatant confiscation of private capital.

If the government is successful, this policy will undermine economic confidence and give Italian taxpayers an additional reason to move their money overseas. And since the politicians can achieve their alleged goal of debt reduction by restraining spending, there is no legitimate reason to steal wealth from the Italian people.

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State and local politicians have rigged the property tax system so they always come out ahead. When home values are rising (even if incomes are flat), they automatically collect more revenue. Sometimes they even decide to reduce the tax rate, though rarely if ever by enough to compensate for the rise in home values. But when home values are falling, that’s almost always an excuse to impose a higher tax rate so that the bureaucrats don’t have to worry about tightening their belts (that’s a role reserved for us peons). Or they simply lie and over-value homes. The Tax Foundation has a new report showing that politicians collected more than 4 percent more money from property taxes even though actual home values dropped by 16 percent.

The recession that began in December 2007 was precipitated by a financial crisis which in turn was triggered by the popping of a real estate bubble, particularly in residential property. And indeed, property values did decline dramatically. The Case-Shiller index, a popular measure of residential home values, shows a drop of almost 16 percent in home values across the country between 2007 and 2008. As property values fell, one might expect property tax collections to have fallen commensurately, but in most cases they did not. Data on state and local taxes from the U.S. Census Bureau show that most states’ property owners paid more in FY 2008 (July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2008) than they had the year before (see Table 1). Nationwide, property tax collections increased by more than 4 percent.

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