Sunday, April 09, 2006

Emerging Trends On Tax Reform Deserve Our Attention

Portland, Oregon, is one of our favorite cities. More importantly, it’s one of America’s most progressive, most innovative ones.

That’s been proven in its leadership for smart growth, for regional planning and financing, for cultural development and for investments in the workforce needed by the knowledge economy.

But if those weren’t enough reasons to admire the city, it’s now won us over again with its version of tax waivers.

Unlike our PILOT program, which waives taxes for businesses regardless of whether incentives are even needed, Portland city government and Multnomah County government will waive property taxes for new homeowners who buy houses in the urban core.

To get the tax breaks, homeowners must meet federal income guidelines (a family of four cannot earn more than $67,000); the house cannot be valued at more than $258,000, and the homeowner must live in it.

In return, taxes for the homes are waived for 10 years. Only the tax on the land is paid.

The program is touted as a major incentive for redevelopment in Portland. In the past 15 months, more than 125 homeowners have received tax abatements under the program created by the Oregon Legislature.

An official for the Portland Development Commission says that the program is responsible for creating stable neighborhoods where empty lots and vacant homes used to be the norm. Best of all, the tax abatements have been a lure that has attracted homebuilders back into the inner city.

If Tennessee law can allow property taxes to be given away for new jobs and new businesses, surely it can allow for investments to be made that could help stabilize our tax base and to rebuild declining city neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, all the way across country from Portland, Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell is calling for property tax relief for homeowners. He says that the mounting property tax bills need attention right now, because property owners have been waiting for someone to help them for 30 years.

To publicize the seriousness of the issue, he has taken to regularly visiting the homes of senior citizens as a way to put pressure on the legislature to take up the issue.

These are the kinds of developments that are showing up more and more in jurisdictions across the country. It would make sense that they surface here sooner better than later.

Memphis and Shelby County are in crisis financially and so are many of the taxpayers footing the public budgets. Perhaps, we can learn something if we pay attention to the emerging trends on property taxes and the innovative means being taken in other parts of the country to address this issue.

As we’ve said often, we need to reinvent the tax structure for Memphis and Shelby County. It’s not just malfunctioning. It’s unfair, regressive and totally broken.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said: “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” But surely, he never contemplated that the tax structure would become this uncivilized – waiving $60 million in property taxes yearly to businesses in the PILOT program while taxing those on the lower rungs of the income ladder at rates higher than those earning six times more income.

No comments: