They’re Back! Like a horror film sequel, Georgia property owners this year are seeing a return of spiraling property tax reassessments leading to staggering back door tax increases by local governments. It is time to put an end to this practice once and for all by limiting annual increases to no more than 3% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.
We attempted to pass this reasonable limitation in the General Assembly in 2009 but fell short of the required 2/3 majority needed for a constitutional amendment to put it into place permanently. The legislature then enacted a temporary freeze to protect property owners in the depths of the recession but that temporary protection has now expired.
Often, proponents of the use of property taxes to fund local governments describe this form of taxation as a “good tax” because it is a “predictable” source of revenue for government. If true, this predictability should be a two way street. This proposed constitutional amendment will allow Georgia property owners to plan and budget their future tax obligations without the threat of rapidly increasing reassessments literally taxing their property out from underneath them.
One of the most important requirements of a government in a free society is to tax its citizens fairly and openly. Our present property tax system does neither. The present system taxes property owners on an artificial unrealized value set by bureaucrats. Not even the IRS is so bold to tax you on an unrealized gain. Furthermore, the present system allows local governments to raise property taxes through back door assessment increases.
This assessment cap proposal protects the family farmer in Wilcox County, the working class homeowner in Clayton County, and the suburban family in Cobb County. By allowing for inflationary increases, local governments can continue to provide for local services if they operate efficiently. In short, it is a common sense proposal that both protects property owners and encourages efficient and responsive local government.
It is always the right time to do the right thing and introducing greater fairness and transparency into our maddening property tax system is definitely the right thing to do now. The General Assembly needs to put a constitutional amendment to limit property tax assessments on the ballot in 2016.