Tuesday, July 26, 2011
So! We have these 'Property Taxes'...
It should be starting to occur to people:
A 0.25 mil increase in the property tax would cost individual property owners $25 annually per $100,000 of assessed value, while raising $3.25 million annually, in this case for Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh (source).
As of this early date, nobody is indignantly recoiling from the concept. There is a comprehensible rationale for the tax increase, after all, and the cost is not very onerous compared to it.
So hypothetically and presumably, a 1.00 mil increase in property taxes would cost owners $100 per $100,000 in assessed value and raise $13 million annually for, let's say, the City of Pittsburgh.
$13 million with which the City might be enabled to pave a few streets, demolish some rat traps, and fix some pools -- that is, here and now, during the 3 to 5 years it will take before our pension fund runs out NO GOD NO WAIT I MEAN while we all address meaningful pension reform, maintain our pay-as-you-go capital budget and approach our debt drop-off in 2017.
The take we might generate from a one mil property tax hike is just a bit shy of the $15 million we hoped to generate with the 1% tax on college tuition. That $13 million also lies roughly in line with figures quoted in the recent past for various budget gaps, capital budget reductions, final solutions, forever elusive non-profit PILOT arrangements, pledges of diverted future revenue et cetera.
$100 on the other hand is a couple new tires, or a frightfully austere night for the family at PNC Park (bringing-a-flask austere), or a fraction of one's insurance deductible should the deterioration of public services lead to a problem in one's home.
The conventional wisdom has been that, "If we raise property taxes, there will be a 'whoosh' as the city empties out and collapses." However when contemplating sums like $100, one begins to wonder if that is really code for, "If I agree to raise property taxes, my next opponent will have something easy and interesting to say against me."
Thus for most who are in a position to decide, it's preferable to see taxes raised only upon a deus ex machina forcing us -- that is, a "state takeover", legal ruling or similar. Problem is, awaiting the arrival of an outside force takes much longer -- time during which problems fester, deterioration becomes decay, decay becomes disease, and real emptying-out might actually be occurring more subtly as a result.
Mayor Ravenstahl deserves credit for having actually advocated raising revenues -- via a tuition tax, yes, and via an infrastructure lease (no plan for parking rate increases was contemplated prior to the Mayor putting higher rates on the table in that way). However the easiest, most forthright, and perhaps the most painless way to collect more revenue remains a strict taboo, a ghost story.
It may not have to be property taxes, but there are not a plethora of options. If we understand that we need more money, it might be best to commence doing what is necessary to assemble more money -- rather than jockeying around the periphery and politically gaming the endgame, the deus we all sense is coming. It might even be a good way to be remembered -- ultimately -- as the one who was serious.