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 are on the rise again, leading to higher effective property rates for homeowners and other property owners.
According to the latest data from the Census Bureau, over a one-year period spanning the fourth quarter of 2011 to the third 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 recession highs. However, according to the most recent data, the share has stabilized and is perhaps on the rise again.
The average share for property taxes since 2000 is 32.3%, while the current share stands at 34.3%. 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 led many to incorrectly conclude that property tax payments would also significantly fall. According to the Case-Shiller national house price index, housing prices are down a little more than 30% over the last six years. Yet the decline of property taxes paid from the peak is negligible (0.4%). 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.