Analysis of the Efficiency, Equity, and Adequacy of a Forest Site Value Tax
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Forest property taxes play an integral role when private landowners make land use and management decisions. Economists often suggest that taxes should be neutral, thus causing no change in land use or management decisions compared to the pre-tax condition. The traditional ad valorem property tax has long been criticized, particularly as it pertains to forestry, because of its distortionary properties and inherent bias against long-rotation investments. Alternatives to the traditional forest property tax include current use assessment, productivity, yield, and site value taxes.
The site value tax is a property tax on the market value of bare land only, exempting improvements. In theory, the site value tax has been championed as the only neutral property tax alternative; however, in actual application, a forest site value tax may prove to be non-neutral and, by certain measures, inequitable. The degree of the tax's neutrality can be linked to the method of tax administration and the ability of assessors to accurately determine bare land market values for a wide range of site qualities.
This paper reviews literature on forest property tax alternatives and theoretically examines the efficiency of an applied forest site value tax. The adequacy and equity of a proposed forest site value tax are examined in detail and compared for two study areas: Western Oregon and Alabama; in light of local governmental budget constraints. Although the site value tax may represent a less-distortional vehicle for collecting local taxes, it is unlikely to be politically or administratively feasible. Also, given the existence of other distortions in the economy, a site value tax may not prove to be the most efficient tax in application, despite its neutral properties.
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