Accuracy in Media

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the property tax revolt is growing at a rapid pace pitting local governments against cash-strapped citizens.

While property tax fights have occurred occasionally over the years in various states and localities, this year the fight has intensified as property values have soared over the last few years. 

I admit that I am sympathetic to their plight as I myself have seen the assessed value of my home which I have been in for a little over a year rise about 80%.  To be fair I need to explain that in Maryland they on reassess the homes every three years and my number just happened to be up this year.  The assessment gives me an idea of what I can expect through 2008.  In the past I didn’t worry about it too much as home values climbed slowly and the assessment always trailed the true value by a decent margin.  Now my home has been assessed during a red hot housing market and there is a pretty good chance that as home prices level off or drop slightly that I will be paying taxes based on a value that is overstated.

The most vocal of the activists quoted by the journal in South Carolina are advocating the elimination of property taxes (a non starter) or a sharp rollback in taxes which is easier to accomplish in general.  The problem is that most local politicians have no interest in giving homeowners a break.  I should know as the tax cap in my area has been over ridden three years in a row by the democratically controlled county council.  Since this year is an election year we may actually get the cap, though what we really need is a tax rate cut to minimize the effect of rising property values. 

The Journal mentioned one area, Lexington County in South Carolina where rising property tax receipts have resulted in a 37% increase in the school budget since 2000 though the population has risen just 13%.  I’m no mathematician, but I think that’s more than the rate of inflation.

What I wish the Journal article would have discussed in more detail is how local governments have and will handle this windfall of tax receipts.  As the economy has improved we have seen increased spending well beyond the rate of inflation, but nary a tax cut.  Even in Maryland where Governor Robert Ehrlich (R), raised the state property tax rate when he entered office four years ago has only proposed a 15% cut in the rate rather than totally eliminate the increase he put into effect.  I guess he figures that the voters will be grateful for a tax cut even though the rate is still higher than it was in 2002.  And he expects me to vote for him?

Property taxes are a ticking time bomb that left unaddressed will force many homeowners out of their long time homes.  It doesn’t bother the politicians since with the increased revenues they can vote themselves a raise to pay for the higher taxes.  This is just another example of how out of touch the politicians are with their voters.

To quote Howard Beale from Network, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” and neither should you. 

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