Utah: Maybe Proposition 13 Isn't What We Need


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For once, there's some upbeat news when it comes to Proposition 13, though unfortunately it doesn't involve California. The Utah Revenue and Taxation Committee this week heard testimony on the merits of enacting a Proposition 13 style property tax cap in their state. With home values generally on the rise up until recently, Utahans have begun to express some frustration with the rising property tax bills coming out of their current fair-market-value assessment system. One knee-jerk way to prevent property tax bills from rising is to enact a law preventing taxable home values from increasing more than a certain amount in any year -- which one of the major provisions contained in Proposition 13 does. Unfortunately, the unintended consequences of such laws, including grave inequities between neighbors, huge windfalls for the rich, and the potential to slow the housing market, are less than desirable. These consequences have been discussed in more detail in earlier Digest pieces, and this ITEP policy brief.

Thankfully, the reaction to the idea in the Utah legislature has been notably unenthusiastic. But with the debate still very focused on concerns over the recent "sticker-shock" of rising property tax bills and the possibility of "taxing people out of their homes", at some point property tax reform is likely to come to the state. So far, that reform appears to be headed in the direction of forcing localities to vote any time the property tax is increased. Perhaps with some work on the part of policy advocates, a more progressive reform (such as a low-income property tax circuit-breaker) could arise out of the discontent in Utah.

Until then, Utahns can at least take comfort in the fact that with home values recently on the decline, their property tax bills can be expected to do the same. If the state were to enact a Proposition 13 style cap on assessment increases, that would by no means be guaranteed, as has been shown in Michigan.

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