The Drop in Property Taxes that Never Happened

Property taxes are an important source of revenue for state and local governments to finance services, particularly education.

Some analysts expected large declines in property tax collections for state and local governments in the wake of the Great Recession. However, this drop has never happened, despite historic price declines for owner-occupied housing. In fact, recent data demonstrate that property tax collections have remained constant for about three years, leading to higher effective tax rates on homeowners.

According to the latest data from the Census Bureau, over a one-year period spanning the third quarter of 2011 to the second quarter of 2012, approximately $475 billion of tax was paid by property owners.

As state/local income and corporate tax receipts recovered in recent years,  the share of local tax collections due to property taxes fell from ahistorical recession highs. However, according to the most recent data, the share may have stabilized above historical levels.

The average share for property taxes since 2000 is 32%, while the current share stands at 34.1%. Consequently, housing and other real estate owners are still paying a higher than average percentage of state and local government tax receipts.

This elevated tax burden is significant, especially when one considers the decline in housing prices since 2006 – a decline that has led many to incorrectly conclude that property tax payments have also significantly fallen. According to the Case-Shiller national house price index, housing prices are down a little more than 31% over the last 5 years.Yet the decline of property taxes paid from the peak is negligible thus far (0.35%). This means that the effective tax homeowners pay on their homes remains high. 

There are several reasons why property taxes have not dropped with housing values. First, assessments of value tend to lag. Second, property tax authorities can adjust tax rates (such as millage rates in many jurisdictions) thus increasing rates as property values decline, holding receipts approximately constant. However, such policy actions mean the effective rate of tax (taxes paid divided by the property value) on the property  increases.

Taxes paid by homeowners and other real estate owners remain the largest single source of taxes for state and local governments. At 34%, property taxes represent a significantly larger share than the next largest sources: individual income taxes (22%) and sales taxes (21%).

* Data footnote: Census data for property tax collections include taxes paid for all real estate assets (as well as personal property), including owner-occupied homes, rental housing, commercial real estate, and agriculture. However, housing’s share is by far the largest when considering the stock of both owner-occupied and rental housing units.



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0 replies

  1. Interestingly, as interest rates keep going down and property taxes remain flat, the monthly payments that homeowners have to pay for their mortgage plus taxes keeps skewing more heavily toward the tax side of the equation. This should make housing prices even more volatile over time as the property tax portion of the pie is fixed.

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