How has the property tax affected American politics?
There is a movement underway and I invite you to dig in, if you haven’t already. You may never be the same. For me, it’s been nothing short of an awakening. In this new reality, everything political, economic, and governmental I see is through ‘Tax Revolt’ colored glasses. The revolt I speak of is the Tax Revolt of 1978. It spread like wildfire and watered the mouths of politicians. Some of those politicians even went against their better judgment just to get some votes…can you can believe that?
How did we come to a government shutdown?
Look no further than the revolt of ’78.
What I found in Isaac William Martin’s book, The Permanent Tax Revolt; How the Property Tax Transformed American Politics, is how we accidently cut funding to neighborhood schools, fire departments, police departments, public utilities, and public libraries by placing severe limits on the local property tax. The property tax, he says, was working to protect residents and businesses from outside market disruptions, in addition to stabilizing local economies, and assuring personal equity on property. It left most people deeply connected with their communities. While the property tax was in desperate need of modernization, the way it was handled was a complete economic mess, and it was political gold for astute conservative politicians.
Now, thanks to tax cutting fever, most state and local governments depend on the federal government and regressive tax measures (sales taxes/user fees) to pay for the things many of us take for granted. Consequently, after years of trying to fill the gaps, the federal government is beginning to feel the squeeze, too. My best guess: government is going to be made small enough to “drown in the bathtub.” And by government, I mean all local and state governments—all 90,000 of them—even yours. Don’t believe me?
• City of Detroit
• City of San Bernardino, Calif.
• Town of Mammoth Lakes, Calf. (Dismissed)
• City of Stockton, Calif.
• Jefferson County, Ala.
• City of Harrisburg, Pa. (Dismissed)
• City of Central Falls, R.I.
• Boise County, Idaho (Dismissed)
But it’s not all doom and gloom. A study of the tax revolt informs us of a time when businesses didn’t mind paying a larger share of the tax burden. I can’t pretend to know how they would be convinced again—or even if they should—but does it matter. Thinking about localism and local economies, I have been seeking out ways others have been successful in dealing with severe tax limits. You see, globalization has really turned us for a loop and we are no longer competitive, in part, thanks to our higher standards in regulation and employment practices. I don’t think we’re going to be able to convince global corporations to pay more, if we aren’t convinced ourselves. We need to follow this line of reasoning: many of these global corporations are receiving American tax credits and incentives, as a public good—that’s what taxes are for, you know. But what good are they to the public when they sell us harmful products, pay us substandard wages, and shelter their taxable revenue? Are they not receiving some sort of benefit from being associated with the US, our military, and our global position? Maybe I should back up a minute.
Do most of us think that government is good?
And by that I don’t mean today’s government. I mean the government that is of the people, for the people, by the people? Do we understand the fundamental difference between the bottom line, less transparent world of business, and the hope for domestic tranquility and liberty of government? Are there historical examples where government was too weak and private industry was too strong? Did you know that currently much of our governmental services are contracted out because of the New Public Management theory? That under the Clinton administration we started operating government agencies as if they were businesses?
What’s my point?
We are already practicing the libertarian dream of self service.
If this is going to work, there are certain things we have to do first. Until globalization levels out, we must find a way to protect ourselves from the very unstable and unpredictable global economy. And I am beginning to agree with people like Isaac William Martin:
We need to come back to our communities. We need to foster community development and steer clear of national politics. We have to promote businesses who trade in our area and employ our people. But first, we have to free ourselves from the federal government’s budget control by returning to the local property tax.
Otherwise, many states are going to continue to be obligated to federal rules, because it is the federal government who is picking up our slack. This seems to be what everyone is feeling even, if many of them don’t understand.
And as an historical account of how we got here, The Permanent Tax Revolt is a fascinating read. Here is a clip from a documentary about it the revolt. It must have been something to be a part of that.
And if you want more—I highly suggest Martin’s book, The Permanent Tax Revolt; How the Property Tax Transformed American Politics.
Jennifer grew up in the Broadmoor area of Shreveport. Eight years after high school she was relocated by her employer to Little Rock Arkansas. She currently lives in North Little Rock with her husband, her two kids, and one orange cat. She works as a data analyst at Acxiom Corporation and is a Public Administration graduate student at UALR. She is also pursuing a GIS certificate at UCA. As an amateur photographer, she finds much joy in observing the world and the people around her. She often travels back to Shreveport to visit her family and friends. “I love coming back home. I miss the good food, the good times, and the culture of the city. It really is a special place—and I hope I always have it to come home to.”