Countercyclical Property Taxes
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
With each economic recession, scholars, pundits, and lawmakers focus on what the Federal government can do to mitigate it. In this Article, I argue that there is an important role for local tax law in managing recessions. Since real property taxes are the most important revenue source for local governments, we should pay special attention to the ways that they help or hurt communities recover. Property taxes have been praised for providing localities with a steady revenue source even during downturns, but this Article uses evidence from Maryland to uncover the burdens placed on households by laws designed to stabilize property tax revenues. These laws increase homeowner mortgage defaults and home sales, increase the use of tax refund anticipation loans, and they reduce discretionary spending by households at the time that it is most needed to prop up the local economy. Adding the impact on households to our analysis of the virtues of property taxation reveals a more complicated account that raises doubts about whether property taxes make localities more or less vulnerable to recessions.