Hidden Consequences: Lessons From Massachusetts For States Considering A Property Tax Cap

Source: Phil Oliff and Iris Lav, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, May 21, 2008

From the summary:
In 1980 Massachusetts voters approved Proposition 2 ½, which mandates that property tax revenues not exceed 2.5 percent of a community’s assessed value and that a community’s property tax revenue not grow by more than 2.5 percent a year.

Over the two and a half decades Proposition 2 ½ has been in effect, Massachusetts’ level of property taxation has declined. Between 1980 and 1985, property taxes as a percentage of income fell from 76 percent above the national average to 13 percent above the national average, where it stands today. (Massachusetts localities rely more on the property tax than localities in much of the rest of the country because they are not permitted to levy sales or income taxes or various other forms of taxes.

Because Proposition 2 ½ lowered property taxation in Massachusetts, advocates of limited taxation often cite it as a model for reform. But the story is far more complicated than that. State aid has helped fill in some of the gaps in local funding the law created, but not all of them and not reliably over time. Furthermore, the local “overspending” that proponents claimed Proposition 2 ½ could curb did not exist in the imagined quantities, and necessary public services have been jeopardized.

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