Is it time for Providence to tax land rather than buildings?

Downtown Providence is dotted with surface parking lots and empty parcels, to the frustration of urbanists and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, whose March economic plan specifically called for “a new citywide tax-stabilization ordinance designed to incentivize new development on Providence’s surface parking lots.”

Maybe Providence should take a page from the playbook of Altoona, Pa., and start taxing land.

Land tax – an idea with passionate supporters, inspired by Henry George – has a distinguished pedigree in economics if not actual policy implementation. The idea is to shift toward taxing the value of something whose supply won’t change due to tax rates – land – instead of the buildings and other improvements made there. The hope is that doing so would spur development, pushing those who own vacant land to do something with it.

Altoona just finished an eight-year transition from a property tax to a land tax, The Altoona Mirror reports:

This year, 72 percent of residential parcels – not including vacant lots – got a [tax] cut, according to the study. The biggest group got a $10 decrease approximately, the report stated.

Most of the “screaming” came from those with vacant lots, according to Baldner. Their properties were in the crosshairs of the increase.

Vacant lot owners have filed several tax appeals in each of the last several years, according to Baldner.

Taveras, however, apparently isn’t considering a land tax. The mayor told PBN’s Patrick Anderson earlier this year that “taxing land at a higher rate is not something we are looking at.” He didn’t say why.

• Related: Study: Providence commercial taxes again highest in the US (Aug. 19)

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