Real Property Tax in Local Public Finance
- Yilin HouYilin HouDepartment of Public Administration and International Affairs, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University
The real property tax (RPT) is a major, stable revenue source for local governments to provide basic public services. The quality, quantity and reliability of public services in a locality are key indicators of the living standards. The service responsibilities require local governments to maintain stable revenues. RPT is a tax on owning and holding land and structures on land, and RPT is a very old tax, dating back to ancient times when land and products thereof were the most important assets. RPT has been used by governments of all countries throughout history, although with huge variation in formats and ways of use. Despite numerous pitfalls in its design and administration, RPT has remained a pillar of local revenue, accounting for a high percentage of total local revenue. Thus, it is important to understand RPT and its roles in local public finance. RPT was mistakenly dubbed the worst tax, a misnomer that has caused misperception of the tax that should be corrected. RPT is one essential pillar of a modern tax system. The design and maintenance of an optimal RPT should follow six principles. The complexity of RPT is with key aspects in its administration, with the weakest link in property value assessment. Exemptions and limitations add to the complexity of RPT, causing unintended consequences. From a panoramic view, RPT has adapted to changes of the society and economy; it still holds prospects as an optimal tax and remains the cornerstone of accountable and sustainable local public finance.