A Progressive’s Guide to Talking to Tea Partiers, Part 1

WRITER’S NOTE:  It’s an election year (no shit, really?) and we’re all being bombarded with the constant media drumbeat from either the left or the right, and precious little of value in between. Anyone reading this who has not made up their mind as to how they’re going to vote in November may be suffering from a serious cognitive disorder or have possibly been hiding in a cave on Iwo Jima — nonetheless, if they seek yet more of the oozing pink slime that is “political news” these days then surely they know exactly where to find more of it — but please don’t look here.

Democracy Tree is going to provide different information, something that is useful and immediately applicable — at the watercooler, the family reunion, office picnic, grocery store checkout line, urinal or anywhere else our thoughtful readers may encounter the archetypal Tea Partier afflicted with an anger management personality disorder that tends to make them look like their eyeballs may pop out of their heads at the mere mention of taxes or regulation.

Our series of topics will be on issues of home rule that effect all of us as much as who our president may be.

We start the series with reasoned comebacks and answers on the question of property taxes….Sure it’s not exactly a sexy topic but we swear it won’t be boring, (and there’s always potential for some racy pictures!). Promising to stick to the arguments and not introduce numbers (except the percentage of Tea Partiers who don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to property taxes — approximately 97.6284 per cent — an unscientific number, with a margin of error of .o3382 per cent.  Oh wait, that’s “Tea Party math”…pulled completely out of the ass. Sorry, won’t happen again.) Part One…

PROPERTY TAXES 

A  Sensible Progressive’s Guide to Countering Tea Party Arguments Against Paying Property Taxes 

When it comes to property taxes, or any other tax for that matter, a certain group of voters repeatedly fall for Tea Party candidates that promise to lower or eliminate their taxes.  It’s no different at the local level where we find these same shysters getting elected on this simple-minded platform again and again.  Yet the moment the newly elected fiscal hawk wannabes assume office and face a real-world budget and balance sheet (after it is all carefully explained to them by staff) they change their tune faster than an angry constituent can holler “pot holes!” in a public meeting.  There’s simply no wiggle room left to cut property taxes and continue to provide the bare minimum of services…and get re-elected. 

It starts like this: They argue that property taxes are wrong and should be eliminated because they punish success — they claim these burdensome taxes drive away all those elusive “job makers” — creatures as phantasmagorical as unicorns and gnomes, yet the stalwart Tea Partier remains mesmerized by their group fantasy.

So, how best to counter this argument? Sure, it may be a task as daunting as explaining quantum physics to a Cocker Spaniel, but there is a way to appeal to their baser fears, and perhaps find some common ground.

Tell your tricorned friend this:

“Yes, our property tax system is a miserable failure that discourages economic growth and development, and it simply must go! The sooner the better!”

(No worries, you actually spoke the truth.)

You see, our property tax system is truly awful and it actually does punish quality development and economic growth. In fact, it supports decline and decay through incentivising land speculation and discouraging quality growth. This problem is pervasive nationwide and it is damaging communities at a heightened rate during our current Republican-induced depression.

One example of this is the laws in many states that are meant to protect and preserve farmland that are being abused by speculators and developers to buy-up weed-filled vacant land, which they then claim as farmland and thus are taxed at less than pennies on the dollar — at the artificially low agricultural rate. They needn’t grow a single crop or maintain any record of farming. This loophole in the property tax code incentivises speculators to buy up prime real estate and just sit on their investment for years on end while they collectively create scarcity in their market area for land that could be developed and thereby drive-up prices…and the value of their investment.

A more pervasive and insidious problem is our misguided assessment practices.

Ever wonder why Walmart, Home Depot, Best Buy, McDonalds, Applebees, and all the other box stores and chain restaurants build such ugly structures with a shelf-life of less than a pair of tube socks? They do this to take advantage of a flaw in our tax law that actually  penalizes developers and homeowners for building quality structures of aesthetic beauty and long-lasting duarability. Property taxes are based primarily on the structure and not on the land. Most commercial development is intentionally designed and built out of cheap materials, with the intention of demolishing the structure in 20 to 25 years — less time than it takes a Big Mac to grow mold.

Commercial developers build these eyesores for reasons directly driven and enabled by property tax code. The structures are cheap to build, the taxes are lower, it doesn’t require a long-term commitment to the community, and they can use the same design over and over again.  When the building has outlived its usefulness, the corporate developer will either sell to speculators or simply allow the vacant structure to decay while they enjoy handsome tax depreciation benefits from the IRS. And to put a cherry on the top — they likely negotiated tax breaks from the local community and state to develop in the first place — benefits that last usually…about 20 years.

What we need is Land Value Taxation — a system which will value the land itself, based on location to other amenities, and the geographic capacity to put it to use through real and sustainable development. This assessment model would not take into account the condition, quality or value of any transient structure on the land. LVT would stabilize market values by insulating them from the corrosive effects of speculation. It would protect our communities from those endlessly vacant storefronts and those enormous and seemingly permanent “For Sale” signs for “Commercial Development”. 

However, there should be one exempted category — farming, not fake farming by speculators, but honest to goodness real agricultural activity that supports our economy and the health of our communities, including the rising use of inner city lots and roof tops for the production of local crops — community gardens and commercial vertical gardens. Fresh food is key to the vitality and growth of the economic base of a community — it draws in families and other businesses — it makes it a place to live and grow roots. This is true for businesses as well, for they are dependent on the real job creators — the people who choose to live in and spend their money in a community that values real quality of life above vague speculations.

Amy Kerr Hardin

(Watch for Part 2 — Zoning!… Now thats just gotta be sexy!)

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