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1st Quarter 2015
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By Ag Member Rep
I recently had the privilege of attending the 2014 Farm Technology Days representing WPT (Wisconsin Property Taxpayers) and it was enlightening in many arenas. I had an opportunity to spend some time with Mike Marsch (President of WPT) and Bert Vosters (Sales Manager of WPT Agriculture) and they gave me a greater insight into the importance and value of what we do. This alone was a valuable learning experience. We had many people stop by our booth and they offered up their opinions. While the vast majorities believed in the principals that we believe in, there were a few that disagreed. Just another example of what a democracy is and the importance of freedom of speech. Many of the people that stopped by were already members of WPT, and many that weren’t expressed an interest in becoming supporters.
We handed out many Wisconsin Badger and Green Bay Packer schedules. It was surprising to me that so many people were looking for them and we were the first ones they found.
Overall, I think the event was a huge success. Attendance for the 2014 Farm Technology Days was reported to be just under 60,000 and from what I experienced, everyone enjoyed the event.
It’s great to be a part of an organization that is so positively accepted by it’s members.
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Property Tax Bill Estimates Under January 2014 Special Session Proposal Read Here
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Wisconsin Alternative Minimum Tax and January 2014 Special Session Bills Read Here
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Wisconsin Property Taxpayers, Inc. (WPT)
is the voice of Wisconsin’s property taxpayers in the State Capitol, working to reduce the statewide property tax burden and reform Wisconsin’s antiquated and regressive property tax system.
Founded in 1985, WPT represents the interests of thousands of commercial, agricultural and residential property taxpayers throughout the state who volunteer their financial support and personal commitment to the organization and its objectives.
WPT is the only statewide taxpayers’ organization registered with the Ethics Division of the State’s Government Accountability Board to lobby exclusively for property tax relief and reform.
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WPT’s experienced government relations specialists, field representatives and technical support staff conduct a variety of activities including legislative analysis, policy and opinion research, media relations, public information and legislative liaison service, to increase public and legislative support for the organization’s public policy objectives.
WPT regularly communicates with members through personal contact, newsletters, member surveys, policy briefs and legislative action alerts.
WPT assists members in dealing with local property tax issues and answers members’ questions related to assessments, property tax exemptions, state laws and administrative rules, and provides information useful in appealing and reducing their property tax liability.
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Independence day celebration at Governor Walker's residence on Lake Mendota.
WPT is the voice of Wisconsin’s Property Taxpayers, your voice, in the Wisconsin State Legislature. Whether you have a comment, a thought to share, a question about your assessment or property tax bill, how your property tax dollars are spent, what’s going on in the Legislature, or any of a thousand property tax related questions we answer for our members, WPT wants to hear from you.
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The Governor’s 2015-17 Budget
Lawmakers to propose dropping personal property tax
By Kevin Crowe of the Journal Sentinel
March 26, 2015
Republican lawmakers plan to soon introduce a bill that would gradually repeal all personal property taxes on businesses and eliminate some state payments to municipalities.
State Rep. Bob Kulp (R-Stratford), a co-author of the bill, said the measure would eliminate a class of taxes that has overburdened large and small businesses and would make Wisconsin more competitive with neighboring states.
The bill is being circulated for co-sponsors; Kulp said it will most likely be introduced within the next week.
"It's overdue because it makes us less competitive than other states," he said. "We're the only Upper Midwest state with it still in effect."
Illinois and Iowa exempt tangible personal property from tax rolls and Minnesota taxes much less personal property than Wisconsin. Items such as office furniture, some manufacturing equipment, machinery and tools are considered personal property.
Personal property taxes make up close to 3% of the overall tax base statewide. But that figure varies by municipality. In Green Bay, personal property accounted for about 5% of the total property tax base in 2013, or $6.6 million. In Milwaukee, those figures were about 3.5%, or $26.3 million.
The bill also would cut state payments to municipalities that offset the exemption granted years agofor computers and computer-related equipment from the personal property tax.
"The main ramification is a tax shift to residential homeowners or a reduction in services," said Curt Witynski, assistant director of the Wisconsin League of Municipalities.
Kulp said the hit municipalities would take would be spread out over a few years. All personal property placed in service by businesses on or after Jan. 1, 2016, would be exempt from the tax. The tax would be eliminated completely by January 2020.
Supporters and opponents of the change agree the personal property tax code is difficult to comply with and takes a lot of time to enforce.
"The personal property portion of our operation is a fairly big chunk of time," said Milwaukee Assessor Steve Miner. "In a lot of ways, it's a lot of work for little value."
State Rep. David Craig (R-Big Bend), a co-author of the bill, said business owners aren't always upset with the amount they pay in taxes, as it doesn't usually amount to a lot of money.
"But the compliance burden itself is very onerous and takes up a lot of time," he said.
Currently, the bill does not contain any mechanism to give aid to municipalities to compensate for the loss in tax revenue.
Kulp and Craig said they are open to finding a way to make municipalities financially whole as the cuts take place, such as allocating some funds cut from another part of the state budget.
Go to jsonline.com/data to search personal property tax rates by municipality.
General: April 7, 2015
Want to learn more about the judicial elections in Wisconsin? Check out the Wisconsin Supreme Court elections, 2015 page for an in-depth exploration of the candidates, issues, politics and news surrounding the state's high court races. READ MORE
Deerfield Village Board faces issues of county
assessments and DaneCom implementation
Posted: Sunday, March 22, 2015 7:00 am
By Tristan McGough Hometown News LP
The Deerfield Village Board held its regular meeting on Monday, March 9 at Deerfield Village Hall.
Two main items were discussed at length, including the DaneCom system that is currently being implemented and the 2015-17 State Budget proposed by Governor Walker that would move property assessments from local jurisdiction to the county level.
Linda Gardiner of Gardiner Appraisal Service made a public appearance at the request of the village administrator, Elizabeth McCredie, to address the concern over property assessments.
As an assessor, Gardiner’s company handles property assessments for about 100 communities and is well-versed in the methodologies of property evaluation, which, she asserts, should be based on the Property Assessment Manual.
Gardiner had sent a letter to the village, outlining her rationale for not supporting the proposed assessment shift from townships, villages and cities to the county.
Her main objections are, first, the shift would not eliminate bad assessments, as questionable assessors will still be hired on a contract basis to implement countywide assessments. In fact, such a shift would “exacerbate the problem on a county level and not just the local level.”
Second, local assessors are flexible in providing onsite assessments during evening and weekend hours. There would be no such flexibility at the county-level: all property assessment visits would only be accomplished during normal weekday working hours.
Third, board reviews of assessed properties that now occur at the local level during evening hours would become a thing of the past. Instead, these reviews would be conducted by the county board and occur only a couple of times a year, requiring that anyone wanting a re-evaluation attend the prescribed meeting set at the county’s pleasure.
Fourth, Gardiner does not see any efficiencies or higher quality of evaluation being obtained by county level assessments.
Currently, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue does the equalization of assessed properties, employing 39 people to do so. They expect to let 22 of those employees go; however, that will necessitate the hiring of 72 new people throughout Wisconsin counties. She seriously doubts that there are enough qualified people to handle this new demand, and she declares such staffing realignments “won’t increase assessment quality.” In addition, equalizers will still be required at the state level for municipalities and school districts that overlap counties.
Most often, assessors do not enter a residence to make a throughout property assessment, but rely on their observations of the exterior of the home and upkeep of the grounds.
In fact, almost all assessments are done this way in Milwaukee.
Gardiner stated that such a cursory examination does not properly evaluate property value. She pointed out that “Thirty percent of improvements in homes are not known to assessors,” seriously compromising an evaluation of fair market value.
In summary, Gardiner believes the proposal, if passed by the legislature, would be “very costly and difficult to implement by the targeted January 1, 2017 date.” Further, it does not confront all the issues of implementation, including “bad dollar” evaluations by sub-par assessors, who in the state of Wisconsin have very minimal standards for certification and ongoing professional education as assessors.
Under New Business, the village board considered Resolution R2015-04: Opposing County Assessment Proposal in the State Budget Bill. Unanimously, the members approved the proposal as presented.
The other main item that harnessed the board’s attention was the DaneCom Interoper-able Voice Radio Communi-cations System, DaneCom, for short. Bob Salov, county supervisor, was on hand to address DaneCom, as well as give an update on other county approvals.
Salov explained that the DaneCom system was designed to meet federal narrow-banding requirements and improve public safety radio system coverage, capacity, interoperability and reliability at an estimated cost of $18 million. However, he acknowledged, there have been numerous problems that have compromised the radios some county police, fire and EMS workers use to communicate. There are some officials who have publically said the situation is serious enough to put lives in jeopardy.
Village President Greg Frutiger commented that his attendance at DaneCom meetings proved that the computer models of coverage are inaccurate.
These models show Deer-field being served by the new system when, in fact, “the field situation is very different, as we’ve had serious problems with communication since the new system was put in place.”
To remedy these problems, the county has proposed spending an additional $6.75 million for new improvements and upgrades. Salov declared that the problems with the Deerfield paging system should be remedied “in the next week or two” by going back to using the Rockdale tower for signaling, which had been discontinued in favor of using the Stoughton tower, which proved to be too low to pass an unobstructed signal.
It is likely, Salov affirmed, that the Rockdale tower will also be used for regular DaneCom communications as well as two-way radios. Additionally, three or four new towers will be erected to better penetrate buildings with the necessary digital signals, allowing for crisp, clear communication. The county has approved $3.5 million toward new towers; however, with ongoing coverage concerns, first responders will still use the old, "legacy" emergency radio communication system for the near future.
The question now being put by the county to chiefs of police, fire departments, and EMSs is whether to “phase in” the refurbished system or to do it all-at-once in 2016. The advantages to phasing the system in would be that glitches encountered could be dealt with as they arise. Nonetheless, Salvo recognizes that many officials are wary of phasing in a system which has proven inadequate to their public safety needs.
Salov went on to report that the county has approved $74 million for various projects, including the new medical examiner’s office (MEO) to be located on County Highway AB, which will cost approximately $1.8 million to build. The new MEO will share grounds with a new county garage, both to be powered in an energy efficient manner by using the methane gas coming off the adjacent landfill.
The county supervisor did also say that $1.2 million is allocated for county tax assessment software and systems. He confesses that this new structure of property evaluation will be “a huge shift for the county, no doubt about it.”
Board overseeing Wisconsin’s for-profit schools fights for its life
15 hours ago • Madeleine Behr and Kate Golden Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
MADISON — David Dies fears that if Gov. Scott Walker succeeds in eliminating the Wisconsin Educational Approval Board, the for-profit schools it oversees will ramp up practices that could harm students.
“If you basically throw the rule book out, I can guarantee you that they will take advantage of their ability to market and recruit as aggressively as possible,” said Dies, the board’s executive secretary.
The proposal to eliminate the EAB is part of Walker’s proposed 2015-17 budget. Since its unveiling in February, Dies has been trying to persuade state lawmakers to reject the idea.
Dies said his small agency is already “outmatched” by the private, for-profit colleges it oversees. Behemoths like the University of Phoenix and Globe University are a far cry from the mom-and-pop schools that dominated the sector 20 years ago.
Walker believes dumping the EAB will “benefit schools by eliminating a costly and unnecessary regulatory burden,” according to his spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick.
But Dies said his agency does not in fact cost the state money — its operations are funded by fees to the schools — and that the “vast majority” of schools do not support the agency’s demise.
“Almost every institution is confused as to why we would want to do this,” Dies said. “The EAB oversight really provides some legitimacy and integrity for the sector.”
In a position paper detailing his views, Dies wrote that Walker’s budget proposal would leave Wisconsin as “the only state in the nation without any meaningful oversight for private postsecondary education institutions.”
Wisconsin Sen. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, who serves on the Senate education committee, is still mulling whether or not to support the proposal, said his spokesman Mike Mikalsen.
“We think the EAB does some very important stuff, but we have some concerns about how the EAB carries out its business,” Mikalsen said. He cited a 2012 proposal to require schools to graduate at least 60 percent of their students as an example of the board being too “aggressive.”
Dies said the proposal, which matched national accreditors’ standards, was intended “as a starting point to having a conversation,” but died in the face of resistance from legislators and schools.
Colleges have drawn criticism
The Wisconsin Educational Approval Board oversees 252 for-profit and certain nonprofit postsecondary schools, enrolling about 60,000 students. Outside its jurisdiction are the UW System and technical, religious and recreational schools.
For-profit schools that seek approval from the EAB must pay fees, submit detailed information about their finances, enrollment and programs, and have a student complaint process.
Walker’s proposal would eliminate the seven-member board and its six full-time and one part-time staff positions, as well as its $605,000 annual budget.
Its remaining responsibilities would be divided between the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the Department of Financial Institutions and Professional Services, newly created in the budget.
“This proposal is part of the governor’s overall goal to streamline state government to make it more efficient, more effective, and more accountable,” Patrick said.
For-profit colleges have come under growing scrutiny in recent years, accused of aggressive, misleading marketing, selling worthless degrees and leaving students with debts they cannot pay.
A 2010 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that recruiters lied to its undercover agents at all 15 campuses it investigated. Colleges were hit by lawsuits and U.S. Senate hearings, CEOs were called onto the carpet by their accreditors, and the U.S. Department of Education came out with a package of federal standards designed to prevent problems.
States have faced criticism from national and local education experts for failing to thoroughly review schools operating within their borders.
“Lax state oversight must end,” said the nonprofit National Consumer Law Center in a 2014 report, which recommended states avoid relying on “accreditation as a substitute for oversight.”
Dies said he has long asked for more resources. The agency lacks in-house counsel despite a near-constant need for legal advice, and the staff is hard pressed in dealing with giant for-profits.
“When you come into a meeting, they have three to four attorneys across the table,” Dies said. “That’s where it gets difficult, because they look at us and say, ‘Who are these guys telling us how to improve our business model?’ ”
The increase in online schools poses a problem, as some have failed to seek state licensure before enrolling Wisconsin students. The EAB can “barely get to the schools and approve the schools that we’re responsible for now,” even with the addition of a full-time and part-time staffer in 2012, Dies said.
But he maintains the agency has still been able to help students. When Anthem College closed its Brookfield campus in August 2014 — displacing 150 students— the EAB helped move equipment and some students to nearby Milwaukee Career College in Wauwatosa.
Will students be more vulnerable?
Oversight of higher education in the United States is often described as a “triad” of the federal government, states, and regional or national accreditors. States are charged with authorizing schools and responding to student complaints.
“We want to make sure, whatever that process is, that states have some process to vet these institutions — that they’re good enough for serving residents of the state,” Dies said.
State statutes require the EAB to track school data, visit campuses and review curriculums, among other responsibilities. According to the budget proposal, DATCP would handle student complaints, while DFIPS would authorize schools to operate in the state.
Only schools with students taking federal financial aid would need authorization from DFIPS. Smaller institutions with no students receiving federal aid would not need approval to operate in the state.
The budget proposal says all the EAB’s “necessary functions” will be transferred, but Patrick did not respond to a question about how those were defined.
Dies is concerned that some oversight requirements — curriculum and program reviews, refund policy requirements, and disclosure of costs and policies — may simply end.
Stephanie Cellini, an economics professor at George Washington University, said Wisconsin led the nation at tracking data on what happens to students. She worries the data would deteriorate if the EAB were eliminated.
“It seems like EAB was doing the right thing,” she said. “Wouldn’t it make sense to add staff to EAB?”
Small schools support agency
The operators of two small schools said they hoped the EAB would stick around.
Laura Ehmann, the CEO of Midwest Maternal Child Institute, which has had a total of 17 enrolled students in Milwaukee since 2012, said she still plans to say her school is EAB-approved should the proposal pass, to distinguish her school from “fly-by-night” midwifery schools that lack approval.
“Having the state’s approval is a big deal for schools,” Ehmann said. “The rigorous process we have to go through to get approved is absolutely what we wanted.”
Jerry Klabacka, president and CEO of Diesel Truck Driver Training School with 718 enrolled students in Sun Prairie since 2012, said, “I think it’s an unnecessary, unproductive, almost destructive piece of legislation.”
He saw competitors behaving badly in the past — taking federal money despite high default rates, failing to do credit checks, and “milking the soup lines in Chicago” for students with the lure of cash.
“The industry needs regulation,” said Klabacka, whose family has run the school for 50 years.
EAB at work
Another small school under the EAB’s jurisdiction is the Wisconsin School of Professional Pet Grooming, in Oconomowoc, with two instructors and 20 enrolled students since 2012. Recently, four students lodged complaints against the school’s director, Delores Lillge, alleging “harsh, demeaning criticism and personal attacks,” hitting a misbehaving dog on the head with a metal comb, and calling a student with disabilities “a dummy.”
EAB staffer Pat Sweeney wrote Lillge a scolding letter describing the students’ concerns and directing the school to address them. And he helped the students negotiate a partial refund and certificates of completion, to which three out of the four agreed.
Lillge said she agreed to “small” improvements but denies the students’ allegations and said a confidentiality agreement prevented her from discussing the matter.
The EAB is designed to prevent complaints like those to the pet grooming school, Dies said. If it is eliminated, he predicted, “complaints are going to increase significantly.”
DNR, stewardship budget provisions a major concern
State Sen. Devin LeMahieu 7:46 p.m. CDT March 26, 2015
Last month, Gov. Walker introduced his 2015-17 biennial budget. Spanning over 1,800 pages, the budget details funding levels for every state agency and program. Now that the budget has been introduced, the state legislature is reviewing and debating the provisions of the budget. Natural resources is one specific area of the budget that many constituents have contacted me to express their concerns.
One major area of concern are the changes to both the Natural Resources Board and the Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection Board. Members of each board are appointed by the governor, approved by the State Senate, and serve six-year terms. Currently, the boards review policy issues and approve administrative rules. The budget would change their duties so that they would serve in an advisory role, stating that the boards create an unnecessary level of bureaucracy.
While I strongly believe in streamlining government, I am concerned that removing powers from citizen boards would eliminate a portion of the public's input over natural resource and agricultural issues. Local farmers, sportsmen, and outdoors enthusiasts have also echoed those concerns to me. As the legislature continues discussion on this issue, I hope that we can address these changes to the DNR and DATCAP boards.
Another main issue in the DNR budget is the proposal to freeze new Stewardship Fund purchases until 2028. The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program has played an instrumental role in preserving land in our state. In the program's 24 years, Stewardship has helped acquire 600,000 acres of land for public recreation and use.
I personally understand and appreciate the importance of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship program. As a supervisor on the Sheboygan County Board, I voted to preserve Amsterdam Dunes in Sheboygan County with the understanding that state stewardship dollars would be available to assist with the effort.
Unfortunately, the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund currently faces significant financial hurdles. The state spent nearly $87 million on Stewardship debt service during the last fiscal year alone, a cost of $1.6 million per week. In addition, nearly 1 in 5 acres in Wisconsin is already owned by the federal, state or county government and is used for conservation. While we want to maintain and grow Wisconsin's strong sporting and recreational heritage, the Stewardship program and state land ownership must be balanced and sustainable.
It is important to note that the budget would still allow for some stewardship purchases. Local Assistance Grants, which provide a state match to local funds for acquisitions of local parks or conservation lands, would still be available to local governments. For example, the Amsterdam Dunes project was a collaborative effort with Sheboygan County and the DNR splitting the cost. Other grants for Motorized Stewardship (to develop ATV/UTV trails) and the Kettle Moraine Springs Fish Hatchery in Sheboygan County would also still continue.
The budget's solution to the level of stewardship debt is to freeze new land purchases until the debt is reduced. I believe the DNR should take a look at how our current public land is being used. Public land that is not being utilized could be sold to private ownership to be put back on the tax rolls. More revenue would then be available to pay down our current debt and to fund new and potentially better Stewardship opportunities. A similar program is currently being utilized for vacant agricultural land. Now it's up to the legislature to consider these options, and more, in an effort to balance conservation and fiscal responsibility.
State Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, represents the Ninth Senate District.
Farm Bill Cheat Sheet
Printable PDF that breaks down the farm bill choices.
Capitol Report 2015
1st Quarter | March
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Our own Ag Member Representative Donovan Dolph - July 4th, 2014
How Property Taxes Work
August 1, 2011 04:18 PM ITEP
The property tax is the oldest major revenue source for state and local governments. At the beginning of the twentieth century, property taxes represented more than eighty percent of state and local tax revenue. While this share has diminished over time as states have introduced sales and income taxes, the property tax remains an important mechanism for funding education and other local services. This policy brief discusses why property is taxed and how property taxes are calculated.
Why Tax Property?
The property tax is rooted largely in the “benefits principle” of taxation. Under this view, the property tax essentially functions as a user-charge on local residents for the benefits they receive from the local policies funded by property taxes. These policies benefit local residents directly in the form of better schools and fire protection, and indirectly in the form of increased housing values.
The property tax also helps differentiate between families of very different means by taxing families with large quantities of wealth more heavily than those without such reserves. But the impact that property taxes can have on low-income families, and particularly the elderly, makes clear that the linkage of the property tax to the ability-to-pay principle is far from perfect.
Finally, the stability and enforceability of the property tax make it among the best options available for providing local governments with a predictable revenue stream that can be used to fund indispensable services like schools, roads, and public safety.
How Property Taxes Work
Historically, property taxes applied to two kinds of property: real property, which includes land and buildings, and personal property,
such as cars, boats,
and the value of
stocks and bonds.
Most states have
moved away from
property and now
primarily on real
In its simplest form, the real property tax is calculated by multiplying the value of land and buildings by the tax rate. Property tax rates are normally expressed in mills. A mill is one-tenth of one percent. In the most basic system, an owner of a property worth $100,000 that is subject to a 25 mill (that is, 2.5 percent) tax rate would pay $2,500 in property taxes. In reality, however, property taxes are often more complicated than this. The first step in the property tax process is determining a property’s value for tax purposes. In most cases, this means estimating the property’s market value, the amount the property would likely sell for.
The second step is determining the property’s assessed value, its value for tax purposes. This is done by multiplying the property’s market value by an assessment ratio, which is a percentage ranging from zero to one hundred. Many states base their taxes upon actual market value—in other words, these states use a 100 percent assessment ratio. A significant number of states, however, assess property at only a fraction of its actual value. New Mexico assesses homes at 33.3 percent of their market value, and Arkansas uses a 20 percent assessment ratio. Some states place a cap on increases in a home’s assessed value in any given year, which in many cases can lead to vastly different assessment ratios among similarly valued homes (For more detail, see ITEP Brief, “Capping Assessed Valuation Growth: A Primer”). And even when the law says properties should be assessed at 100 percent of their value, local assessors at times systematically under-assess property, reporting assessed values that are substantially less than the real market value of the property.
After the assessment ratio has been factored in, many states reduce a property’s assessed value further by allowing exemptions. The most common type of exemption is referred to as a “homestead exemption.” In Ohio, for example, the state allows an exemption for the first $25,000 of home value. Subtracting all exemptions yields the taxable value of a property. (For more on homestead exemptions, see ITEP Brief, “Property Tax Homestead Exemptions”).
The next step in the process is applying a property tax rate, also known as a millage rate, to the property’s taxable value. The millage rate is usually the sum of several tax rates applied by several different jurisdictions: for example, one property might be subject to a municipal tax, a county tax, and a school district tax. This calculation yields the tentative property tax before credits.
Many states allow property tax credits that either directly reduce the property tax bill, or that reimburse part of the property tax bill separately when taxpayers apply for them. Subtracting these credits is the final step in calculating one’s property tax bill—though taxpayers are often required to pay the pre-credit property tax amount, only to later have the amount of the credit refunded to them. (For more detail on one type of property tax credit, see ITEP brief, “Property Tax Circuit Breakers”).
Other Property Tax Issues
While property taxes on owner-occupied homes tend to receive the most attention, the presence (or absence) of tax on other forms of property also has important implications.
Businesses pay property taxes just like local residents. Property taxes on businesses are mostly borne by business owners. Business property taxes generally make the property tax less regressive, since business owners tend to be wealthier than average.
Property taxes also impact taxpayers who rent, rather than own their home. This is because owners of rental real estate pass through some of their tax liability to renters in the form of higher rents. The impact of property taxes on renters is of particular concern because renters tend to be significantly less well-off than their homeowner neighbors.
Non-profit entities are generally exempt from state and local property taxes. While these exemptions can make it easier for these organizations to pursue their missions, it can mean that local governments have difficulty raising the revenue needed to provide quality public services. This issue is most significant in areas with large non-profit hospitals and/or universities. PDF
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News updates March 30, 2015