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Renewed Reliance on Property Taxes Predicted

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A nationally recognized authority on school finance predicts that the 10-year trend toward reduced reliance on property taxes to support public education will be reversed as states curtail their spending, enrollments begin to increase again, and pressure grows to improve the schools.

John Augenblick, who directed the education finance center at the Education Commission of the States until leaving last year to form an education-policy consulting firm, suggests in a paper titled "Property Taxes and the Future of School Finance" that property taxes can be made fairer and more politically palatable in order to ensure adequate and stable sources of revenue for education.

"During the past 15 years," he writes, "local school districts have reduced their reliance on property taxes while states have dramatically increased their support for schools. In the last few years, states have faced serious fiscal problems, although elementary and secondary education has fared better than other services in terms of adjustments in state expenditures."

School-finance reform, Mr. Augenblick adds, has been highly successful in achieving the goals of taxpayer equity and reduced reliance on local funds; between 1972-73 and 1982-83, he reports, reliance on local revenues decreased in 35 states and increased in only 15.

Noting that most states opened their 1983 legislative sessions in their worst fiscal condition in 40 years, Mr. Augenblick concludes that the rapid growth in state aid that characterized the 1970's has ended. As further evidence, he cites the 9.8-percent increase in property-tax revenues between 1980 and 1981--an annual increase exceeding those of several preceding years.

"Rather than doing away with property taxes," Mr. Augenblick writes, "policymakers should improve assessment practices, collection systems, and the tax rate-setting process."

Among the policy questions to be considered, he suggests are:

Should property taxes be collected on a statewide basis to assure uniformity?

Should certain types of property, such as power plants, be assessed and taxed by the state?

Should property be assessed by the state even if tax rates are determined locally?

Should property taxes be limited to a specified proportion of family income or property value?

Should property taxes be collected over a period of time rather than at one time?

The paper is being considered for publication in The Journal of Education Finance. Copies are available at $4 from Augenblick, Van de Water & Associates Inc., P.O. Box 20276, Denver, Colo. 80220.--pc

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