The Evidence in Favor of Taxing Land Values: 233 Empirical
Steven B. Cord
[233 Empirical Studies, Plus 5 Endorsements by Well-Known Authorities
of a Tax That Has Stimulated the Economy & Lowered Taxes for Most
A tax on land assessments requires land to be put to productive use;
it can stimulate the economy by reducing taxes on labor & capital
- Production is enhanced when it isn't taxed and land assessments
are taxed instead.
- Most taxpayers get tax reductions when a tax on land
assessments replaces taxes on what they produce; it's an
- Strict revenue neutrality for the government is maintained
because the land tax initially replaces the building tax
(eventually other taxes).
Actual practice fully supports these three logical advantages - see
the summaries of empirical studies below. They are mainly based on
Australian government statistics (building permits issued) but I was
also able to induce 23 localities in the U.S. to use this tax
approach, always with the same results -- an increase in building
Yes, we should tax land values more than anything else, both for
logical and empirical reasons, but it must be properly implemented -
how to do that requires some experience, so ask us how to do it (at no
charge or obligation).
These studies have been fully corroborated by many sources. For
instance, before Fortune Magazine ran its 1983 article advocating land
value taxation, it sent two of its researchers, Gurney Breckenfeld &
Ed Baig, to visit the city halls that I had visited. They found that I
had accurately stated the building permits issued. The magazine is to
be commended for such careful research checking.
Furthermore, a study by the prestigious Pennsylvania Economy League
(PEL) completely supported the conclusions of the empirical studies
listed (see p. 16 of its 1985 LVT study). Also, the P.E.L. was
instrumental in getting two cities (Clairton and DuBois in
Pennsylvania) to adopt a two-rate building-to-land shift in their
Professor Nicolaus Tideman of Virginia Tech University and his
then-graduate student, Florenz Plassmann (now a professor in
Binghamton, N.Y.) confirmed all my studies that were completed when
they did their research in 1995. Their research was peer-reviewed and
published in the Journal of Urban Economics (3/00, pp. 216-47).
The source of the Australian studies summarized here are from a
statistical yearbook (similar to the U.S. Statistical Abstract)
published annually by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This
yearbook contains building permits issued annually by every locality
in the country (the U.S. Census Bureau also does this for the U.S.).
If a partial shift to land value taxation (hereinafter referred to as
LVT) has always produced these positive economic results, it would
seem that more LVT would produce even better economic results. Contact
us to find out how to tax land assessments more and building
SUGGESTION: At first, read study #238 (the best one) and then the
peer-review (at the end).
Then read any 3 other studies; then read them all.
The 233 Empirical Studies (plus 5 Endorsements)
(1) The accountancy firm of Price, Waterhouse & Co. performed a
study for U.S. H.U.D. that found that the abatement of building taxes
was conducive to new construction (p. 4, reported in the summer 1975
issue of Incentive Taxation (hereafter referred to as IT).
P. 8 of the PW study: "Based upon the evidence collected it
appears that the Fairhope Single Tax Corporation's practice of site
value rental [equivalent to LVT] has been effective in that it has
encouraged more intensive development of its property."
Just do it gradually, not as a single tax all at once; ask us how to
(2) In the early 1970s, the General Council for Rating Reform of
Australia (GCRR) reported that in Kilmore Shire, Victoria, the dollar
value of construction and renovation increased 3.19 times in the three
whole years immediately after it shifted from taxing both buildings
and land income to taxing land income only (IT, summer 1975).
Local property-tax switches in Australia were made in April, so there
was a year in which both systems were applied.
(3) In Buninyong Shire (Victoria), the GCRR found that, comparing the
three whole years immediately prior to the shift from taxing the
income of both building and land to the first two whole years after
the shift when only the assessed land value was taxed, there was an
average 5.9 increase in the annual dollar value of new construction
and renovation (Ibid. - the Australian Bureau of Census was the
(4) In Orbost Shire (also Victoria), the GCRR compared the three
whole years before the shift to taxing only land values to the year
immediately after the shift. It found that the average annual
construction and renovation increased 1.74 times (source: Australian
Bureau of Census).
(5) Harry Gunnison Brown, a prominent American public-finance
economist in his time, found that those localities in the states of
South Australia and Victoria which taxed land values had results that
were markedly superior in new dwelling construction than in the other
For instance, in the state of Victoria, "although at the 1921
census only 16 per cent of the state population was in the fourteen
districts rating [taxing] land values, these districts accounted for
46 per cent of the total increase in dwellings for the State between
the two census years [1921 and 1933]."
(6) Brown's figures on the Melbourne suburbs were also striking. He
found that those suburbs which are about five rail miles from Flinders
Street in the center of Melbourne and which tax land values only had
50% more dwellings constructed per available acre in the 1928-1942
period than those which did not. Making a similar comparison for
suburbs seven miles out, the LVT suburbs did 2.33 times better; LVT
suburbs 9.5 miles out did twice as well (IT, 9/75).
(7) Melton Shire (Victoria) switched from taxing real-estate income
to taxing only land values in 1973 (as the result of a poll of
landowners only) and then saw the Australian-dollar value of its
building permits increase 1.68 times in the first year after the
switch as compared to the year previous (Land Values Research Group
(LVRG), successor to GCRR - IT 10/75; all of LVRG's studies are based
on Australian Bureau of Census figures).
(8) The average 1954-61 population growth of rural LVT towns in
Victoria was 21.8%, but for their non-LVT neighbors it was only 13.4%.
Their 1955-63 dwelling construction was 38.3% higher (source: GCRR,
using Victoria state govt. statistics).
(9) New York State taxpayers spent more than $400 million to build
the New York Thruway, but land values along the route increased by
considerably more than $400 million (Perry Prentice, vice-president of
Time, Inc., in Architectural Forum, per IT 1-2/76).
(10) Life editorial (1965): "Since the [Toronto] subway was
built the neighborhoods around the stations have experienced a small
construction boom and land values have skyrocketed. A 100-square-foot
plot purchased in 1947 for $22,000 sold ten years later for $257,000."
This was reported in IT, 1-2/76.
Conclusion: it would seem that if land values are taxed, the
government could easily regain its expenditures on transportation.
(11) "The landowners on Staten Island in New York City pocketed
a $700 million windfall because other taxpayers put up $350 million
for the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and their land became much more
accessible than before. And one can wonder about the increase in land
valuation on the Brooklyn side of the bridge." So wrote Perry
Prentice in the Commercial and Financial Chronicle, 8/22/68, as
reported in IT, 1-2/76.
(12) In the seven years following the construction of New York City's
IRT subway from 135th St. to Spuyten Duyvil, the rise in land value
was $69.3 million. Subtracting the normal increase during the previous
seven years ($20.1 million) left an increase of $49.2 million directly
attributable to the opening of the line. But that section of the line
cost only $41.8 million (Gilbert Tucker, The Self-Supporting City,
quoting a City Club study); see IT, 1-2/76.
(13) According to one public official in New Jersey quoted by Gilbert
Tucker in The Self-Supporting City, the opening of the George
Washington Bridge in 1928 increased land values on just the New Jersey
side by $300 million, or more than six times the original construction
cost (IT, 1-2/76).
(14) Less than two years after the property owners of Wangaratta (in
Victoria, Aus.)had voted 4-1 to adopt LVT only, this headline appeared
in the local newspaper: "Building 'Wave' Envelops Whole of Town."
This occurred during a building recession in the surrounding area (IT,
(15-30) IT (5-6-7/76) reported that random-sample studies in sixteen
U.S. cities substantiated that most homeowners paid less with a
two-rate building-to-land property-tax shift. Of course, all tenants
(as tenants) would have paid less space-rent for their lodgings.
(31) Two years after adopting an LVT-only property tax, 1957
construction in Mildura City (351 miles northwest of Melbourne, Aus.)
broke all records, "and at the present rate, the 1957 record will
be broken this year" (source: researcher Elizabeth Read Brown in
the American Journal of Economics & Sociology (1/61, p. 12). See
(32) "As a means of encouraging owners of sub-standard dwellings
to install improvements, the City of New York adopted in 1936 a law
granting property-tax exemption for five years upon the value added to
existing buildings by improvements completed before October 1, 1938
provided the improvements did not increase the size of the building.
Mayor LaGuardia estimated that renovation work in that year ran as
high as $75,000,000
" (Harold S. Buttenheim, founding editor
of the American City Magazine, as reported in IT 11/76).
(33) A Pittsburgh City Council study showed conclusively that a 1%
earned income tax would hit the city's homeowners 3.59 times harder
than an equivalent-in-revenue LVT increase. The same study also found
that a two-rate LVT would down-tax 73.6% of homeowners (IT 12/76).
(34) Then there's Horsham, a city in rural Victoria, Australia. To
quote from Progress (an Australian monthly magazine, 6/74, as cited in
IT 12/76; ultimate source - Australian govt. building-permit
"Horsham made the change to site value rating
during the rural recession. For the three years before the un-taxing
of buildings, the numbers and values of permits issued to private
homebuilders had fallen drastically (from A$718,000 down to
A$418,000 immediately before the change). The rot was stopped in the
first year of untaxed buildings and the slow climb back commenced.
For the year ended 30th June 1973, the numbers of privately built
dwelling units approved rose to 94 and their value to (A)$1,153,000.
"This is almost double the numbers of approvals and almost
triple their values of the last year of taxed buildings. Site value
rating has done much to beat the rural recession in this area."
This ends our examination of the first bound volume of Incentive
Taxation (there are nine such volumes). This first volume covers a
period before many two-rate building-to-land tax shifts occurred in
the United States. Thus, in these early studies, IT had to rely
primarily on statistics of the impact of a building-to-land tax shift
(35) A Washington, D.C. study done in the 1970s shows that if the
current property tax were shifted from land and building assessments
to land assessments only, there would be these tax reductions: 18.1%
for single-family homes, 20.9% for two-family homes, 14% for row
houses, 38.9% for walkup apartments, and 22.5% for elevator apartments
(36) From 1921 to 1933, 7% of the municipalities in Victoria, Aus.
taxed only land values, but they accounted for 46% of home
construction. In the years 1947-54, the LVT municipalities had
increased to 12%, but they accounted for 42% of the home construction.
During 1954-58, 19% were using LVT, but they accounted for 62% of new
home construction (source: LVRG study based on building-permit
issuance). See 1T, 10/77.
(37) In 164 localities outside Melbourne, Aus., during the two-year
period 1955/56 to 1957/58, there were 42 new factories, of which half
were in the 17 localities using LVT-only. Also, factory employment in
these 17 LVT-only localities increased by 445 whereas in the remaining
147 localities, factory employment decreased by 361 (source: Aus.
govt. statistics in "Public Charges Upon Land Values," a
1961 study of the GCLR). See IT, 1077.
(38-49) Twelve studies in rural Victoria showed that LVT-only towns
averaged a construction-and-renovation growth of 29%; their
land-and-building-taxing neighbors grew at a modest 2.6% in the same
period of time (source: GCLR study of building-permits issued as
reported in Progress, 3/75, per IT, 10/77). LVT-only was adopted in
each case as a result of a poll of landowners only.
(50) Wellington, New Zealand taxed land values while Auckland did
not. In 1965, Wellington had ?219 in improvements for every ?100 in
land value while Auckland had only ?143 in improvements per ?100 in
land value (source: N.Z. govt. statistics per GCLR). See IT, 10/77.
(51) When LVT-only Sydney and building-taxing Melbourne in Australia
were compared in 1965, Sydney had ?222 in improvements for every ?100
in land values whereas Melbourne had only ?125 in improvements for
every ?100 in land values (source: GCLR, ABS); see IT, 10/77.
(52) Ken Synett (former mayor of Marion, Aus): "For many years
the Marion area remained static. Much of the land now being developed
was in the hands of speculators.
"They held it as a lock-up investment. Tax rates were low
Then in 1954, the year after we achieved city status, our rating
system was changed from a rental basis [i.e., real-estate-income tax]
to one based on unimproved land value [LVT]. This sent the tax rates
up [on land values]
.The land investors decided it was time to
.We are now watching Marion's phenomenal expansion with
pride." See IT, 10/77.
(53) After Camberwell, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, adopted
LVT-only in 1922, its development was meteoric. For twenty years, it
headed the Victoria building-development figures both in numbers and
values until displaced by Moorabin in 1946 after that city also
changed to LVT-only. In addition, Camberwell exhibited another
advantage of LVT-only - it was fully in accord with ability-to-pay
(source: LVRG in Progress, using Aus. govt. statistics; see chart in
(54) A 1965 study sponsored by the California General Assembly
(prepared by Griffenhagen-Kroeger) revealed that over 92% of the
homeowners and renters in Fresno, CA would get tax reductions with a
building-to-land tax shift. See IT 12/77.
(55-59) An LVRG study of five towns in rural Victoria, Australia
between 1965 and 1966 showed that they exceeded the construction
growth of their neighbors by 18%, 23%, 52%, 66%, and 48%.
(60) In November 1964, the property owners of South Melbourne voted
to switch to an LVT-only system. In the first six months of 1965,
building values increased 2.4 times over what they had been in the
four preceding six-month periods. The expenditures for alterations and
additions to houses were 2.8 times the average in the four preceding
six-month periods. The total value of construction permits for
industrial buildings increased 3.3 times.
Not only that, but the growth in construction continued unabated in
the ensuing years (source: Aus. govt. statistics per GCLR).
Many decades previously, South Melbourne had been a fashionable spot
in the Melbourne area. Then it ran down, went to seed. After switching
to LVT-only, it revived and became known as the "Cinderella City."
An article headline in the Melbourne Herald (12/2/72) called its
renaissance "The Kiss of Life." See IT, 1/78.
(61) The Local Government and Shires Association of Australia
reported that "a survey made by the city of Sydney [LVT-only] in
1950, showed that the building taxation system would have penalized
the factory owner, the house investor, the homeowner, and the small
shopkeeper, to the benefit of the large business interests in close
proximity to the City." See IT, 1/78.
(62) H. W. Eastwood (Chief Assessor in the 1970s of New South Wales
Province, Aus.) strongly supported local land value taxation,
primarily because re-assessments could more easily be made every two
years. His testimony appears in the 1966 Royal Commission of Inquiry
into Rating Valuation and Local Government Finance (section 4.25). See
(63) Landowners in rural Mildura - pop. 11,000, 350 miles northwest
of Melbourne in rural Victoria - voted in LVT-only in August 1956 by a
3.6:1 margin. The value of building permits rose by one-third in 1957
and by another third in 1958 in the face of a 10% house-building
recession in rural Victoria during those years (Progress 11/59 and
Land & Liberty 4/57 and 3/58). See IT, 1/78.
(64) After Moorabin, the largest of the municipalities comprising
Greater Melbourne, voted in LVT-only in 1946, its total value of all
building permits jumped 21% and within three years they had jumped
141% (Moorabin Standard-News, 8/22/58). Especially remarkable was the
growth in Cheltenham, which had been a particularly blighted section
of Moorabin. See IT, 1/78.
(65) Towns in Victoria, Australia that adopted LVT-only between 1955
and 1964 grew at a 58% faster rate than their real-estate-income
taxing neighbors (source: GCLR). See IT, 1/78.
(66) If eastern Americans fell through the earth, they would emerge
near Perth, Western Australia (pop.400,000). The 17 largest localities
in Western Australia taxed land values only; they experienced a 34.36%
increase in the total number of dwellings between 6/30/71 and 6/30/76.
The nine localities taxing real-estate income experienced a 0.02%
decrease in the same time period (source: Progress, 11/77, p. 10). See
(67) In the country districts of Western Australia, 36 localities
taxed land values only; they experienced a 13.34% increase in the
total number of dwellings between 6/30/71 and 6/30/76. The 69
localities partly taxing land values only and partly taxing land and
buildings together (they use both systems simultaneously, called
shandy rating); they experienced only a 1.53% increase. In other
words, the more land was taxed and buildings un-taxed, the more new
It should be noted that the LVT-only localities were distributed
rather widely throughout the country districts, as well as in the
Perth suburbs. They were not concentrated in certain areas where
development may have proceeded for such non-LVT reasons as geography,
nearness to cities, new highways, etc. See IT, Sp/78.
(68) Richard Noyes, editor of the Salem (N.H.) Observer and later a
state legislator, found that the group in his hometown whose property
taxes would increase the most with a higher tax rate on land were
out-of-town land speculators (see IT, 7/78).
(69) Gary Carlson and Ralph Todd, economists working for the Omaha
city government, found that 59% of the city's building owners would
pay less if the property tax was two-rated (i.e., shifted from
buildings to land values). See IT, 7/78.
(70-80) Nine of eleven studies made in various cities showed that
homeowners saved on property taxes with a two-rate building-to-land
shift. The cities were Fresno CA, all cities in Oregon, Bergen County
(in N.J.), Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg, and Allentown in Pa.,
Korumburra and South Melbourne in Australia. Homeowners paid slightly
more in Farrell and Monessen, Pa. (but not Monessen today). See IT,
But do keep in mind that all renters (as renters) save with LVT.
(81-85) Five LVT-only localities in rural Victoria (Aus.) had 11.2%
more construction and renovation during the years 1967-74 than
occurred in their statistical districts (these neighbors were subject
to the same economic influences). The five localities were Kerang
Borough, Kerang Shire, Cohuna Shire, Horsham City, and Kilmore Shire
(source: Aus. Bureau of Statistics as quoted in Progress, 6/75, p. 8).
See IT, 11/78.
(86) Buninyong (in rural Victoria) experienced a nearly five-fold
building boom after it started taxing land values only instead of
real-estate income (the latter tax fell mainly on the value of
buildings). The surrounding localities increased their construction
and renovation also, but by less than half as much (source: Progress,
11/75, p. 11, also 11/76, p. 10). See IT, 11/78.
(87) Most homeowners in Newtown, Victoria (Aus.) saved A$, A$, A$,
some considerably, with LVT-only, and an examination of building
permits showed that home-owners in Newtown improved their properties
more than the homeowners of nearby real-estate-taxing Geelong and
Geelong West (source: Progress, 10/69, pp. 9-10; see IT, 11/78).
(88) In 1979, Pittsburgh added 4.8% to its tax rate on land
assessments, nothing to its tax rate on building assessments. A study
performed under the direction of William Coyne, Finance Chairman of
the City Council (later Congressman) found that the average homeowner
paid $62 extra land tax, but the average wage earner would have paid
$188 per year with a wage tax yielding the same amount of total
revenue for the city (many families have two or more wage earners).
One of the "pay-mores" was Kaufman's Department Store,
which paid $6,900 additional land value tax - but Coyne figured this
to be 0.0009% of their annual sales. See IT, 1-2/79.
(89) Steven Cord and his student William Ritter studied the proposed
impact of land value tax on farmers in Indiana County, Pa. (American
Journal of Economics & Sociology, 1/76). They found that if the
property-tax rate on buildings was reduced 25% and the tax rate on
land values was increased to make up for the lost revenue, more
farmers would get tax increases than tax reduction, especially those
near the growing town of Indiana, the county seat (but land there was
generally selling at speculative, not farming, prices).
Farming increases were generally minor: for half the sample, the tax
increases and decreases were less than $50; for a quarter of the
sample, the changes were in the $50-$100 range (see IT, 3-4/79).
(90) In North Dakota, farmers were paying no property tax on farm
buildings, and a survey by a high official of the N.D. League of
Cities revealed that this has encouraged new farm construction (USN&WR,
4/3/78, p. 54).
(91) Economist Mason Gaffney's Wisconsin study revealed that "farmers
would generally break even" (6/70 Urban Institute symposium). See
(92) Mark Mraz, a graduate student at Indiana University of
Pennsylvania, found the same thing to be true in Elk County, Pa.
(unpublished manuscript, 1977). See IT, 3-4/79.
(93) A 1963 survey by the Land Values Research Group (their Rural
Rating Study #5) revealed that in the rural areas of Victoria, an
LVT-only shift would reduce taxes for 668 of the farms with houses
(average reduction 22%) while increasing taxes for only 407 of the
farms with houses (average increase 18%). As expected, 442 holdings
without houses (i.e., empty land) would experience tax increases of
about 35%. See IT, 3-4/79.
(94) California Irrigation Districts - in 1909, California law
required that when new irrigation networks were built, they were to be
financed by a tax on the affected land values only; all privately
owned irrigation improvements were to be property-tax exempt. The
theory was that since land values increased because of the publicly
owned irrigation networks, the expense of those networks should be
borne by the landowners.
The result was beneficial to the local farmers, particularly the
smaller ones. The irrigated valleys are among the most productive in
the world, and in 1914 the Modesto Chamber of Commerce stated:
"As a result of the change many of the large
ranches have been cut up and sold in small tracts. The new owners
are cultivating these farms intensively. The population of both
country and city has greatly increased
the new system of
taxation has brought great prosperity to our district. Farmers are
now encouraged to improve their property. Industry and thrift are no
longer punished by an increase in taxes" (Congressional
Research Service, "Property Taxation," p. 48). See IT,
(95) According to a Pittsburgh City Planning Dept. study, if the city
switched all property taxes off buildings onto land value, the
60-story U.S. Steel skyscraper on the main street (Grant St.) would
save $750,000 in property taxes annually. See IT, 3-4/79.
(96) When Wangaratta, a small rural town, pop. 11,000, in Victoria,
Aus., voted for LVT-only in 1956, there was an immediate upward leap
in building permits issued - they averaged ?645,921 annually in the
three years following the switch vs. ?393,692 in the year previous. A
veritable building wave enveloped the town.
Wangaratta's building-permit issuance was 5.24 times what it could
expect if it had followed the general rural trend in the Victoria
(source: Progress 5/59 and 11/59). See IT, 7-8/79.
(97) Professor Arthur Becker of the University of Wisconsin
(Milwaukee) studied the impact of LVT in Milwaukee and found that
commercial and industrial construction would be stimulated (see the
article by economist Gary Carlson in the Nation's Cities magazine,
2/72; a summary of Becker's 13 advantages of LVT are listed in IT,
(98) A rate increase on water use would cost the average Pittsburgh
homeowner more than five times what a land tax increase raising the
same revenue would cost that homeowner, according to a Pittsburgh City
Council study of 1977. See IT, 11-12/79.
(99) Malvern, Aus. experienced a marked construction spurt after it
adopted LVT-only in August 1955, but the most extensive construction
took place in its blighted problem neighborhoods.
Prior to the introduction of LVT-only in 9/55, only 22% of the city's
building permits were for construction in such neighborhoods, but in
each of the five ensuing years, that percentage jumped first to 35%
and then steadily moved up to 47% in 1960 (these percentages were of
continually larger figures). Construction also boomed elsewhere in
Malvern (source: Victoria Building and Construction Journal). See IT,
(100) Anthony Pileggi, a student at Indiana University of
Pennsylvania (now a lawyer in Columbia, Md.), studied the land
assessments in the town of Indiana, Pa. (pop. 15,001). He found that
1.5% of the biggest landowners in Indiana paid 50.5% of the town's tax
on land values, whereas in that year the 3% of the top income earners
in the U.S. paid 30.6% of the federal income tax (source - USSA).
He therefore concluded that the land value tax in Indiana was much
more in accord with the ability-to-pay theory than is the federal
income tax. See IT, 4/80.
But Pileggi could not know all the interlocking land ownerships in
Indiana, as when a person might own land under a personal, family or
corporate name. So he necessarily under-estimated the concentration of
landownership in Indiana (in any case, it would be even larger in
larger cities, where a greater proportion of citizens are
non-landowning apartment tenants or small-business office-building
(101) A study by Gale Thoman, a student at Indiana University of
Pennsylvania, found that the average homeowner in Indiana, Pa. would
substantially save with LVT. See IT, 4/80.
This concludes our excerpts from the second (of nine) bound volumes
of Incentive Taxation. Eventually I induced 23 American jurisdictions
to adopt a two-rate property-tax LVT, thereby making studies of the
effects of LVT in the U.S. possible.
(102-104) Three Australian shires (equivalent to counties in America)
- Kilmore, Buninyong and Melton - experienced spurts in construction
and renovation after adopting LVT-only in 1971, 1972 and 1974
For Kilmore, the average annual building-permit issuance of the four
whole years after adoption exceeded the average annual building-permit
issuance of its three whole years before adoption by 3.88 times.
For Buninyong, the average annual building-permit issuance of the
three whole years after adoption exceeded the average annual
building-permit issuance of its three whole years before adoption by
For Melton, the average building-permit issuance of its one whole
year after adoption almost doubled its average annual building-permit
issuance of the three years before adoption.
Also important was the comparison of these three LVT-only shires with
what they could have expected had they experienced the same change in
building-permit issuance as did their statistical districts; this
counters the sometimes-heard criticism that the jurisdictions choosing
LVT-only were already growing before they chose LVT-only and that
LVT-only didn't cause growth but rather the growth caused the adoption
Kilmore's new construction and renovation exceeded its statistical
district by 54%, Buninyong by 97%, and Melton by 65% (Progress, 11/75,
p. 11; also IT, Sp/80).
All the LVT-only localities in the entire state of Victoria which
adopted LVT-only between 1955 and 1974 exhibited similar results.
(105-6) After the Sydney (Aus.) Metropolitan Water Sewerage and
Drainage Board switched to LVT-only, it showed a steady increase of
94.1% in dwelling approvals in the ensuing four years.
When the Hunter District Board (serving Newcastle and its surrounding
area) switched to LVT-only, its total value of all dwelling approvals
increased 87.2% over the previous four years.
During the same period of time, non-LVT Melbourne saw its total value
of dwelling approvals increase by only 42.7% (source: Progress, 9/79,
p. 32; see IT, Sp./80).
(107) In the Melbourne metropolitan area, the 27 LVT-only localities
showed an average inter-census growth for privately built dwellings of
12.9%, while the 15 localities that taxed real-estate income showed an
average growth of only 2.8%.
"Inter-census" refers to the difference in private dwelling
construction between the government census of 6/30/76 and the previous
census of 6/30/71. These statistics are from Progress, 7/79, p. 8 and
were based on a 17-page government report giving statistics for each
of the 211 cities in Victoria. See IT, Sp/80.
(108) For the entire state of Victoria, the average growth rate was
15.2% for the LVT-only localities but only 10.9% for the neighboring
real-estate-income taxing localities. Evidently, if you un-tax
buildings and up-tax land, economic growth results.
(109) A Pittsburgh, Pa. City Council study (1979) showed that 64% of
the city's homeowners would pay less in taxes with a two-rate
building-to-land property-tax shift; they would be hit much harder
with a wage tax. See IT 10/80.
(110) In Washington, D.C. a 1976 study authorized by the city council
revealed that a two-rate building-to-land property-tax shift would cut
taxes on the residential owners by 14% to 38.9%. See IT, 10/80.
(111) A study I did revealed that Pittsburgh's 1980 near doubling of
land tax rates (without any increase in building tax rates) cost the
average homeowner an extra $35 a year, but if a wage tax increase
raising the same revenue had been imposed, the average wage earner
would have paid an extra $110 a year (many families have more than one
wage earner). See IT, 10/80.
(112) In the year following Pittsburgh's sizeable 1979 increase in
land tax rates, new construction jumped 22% over the previous year as
measured by the dollar value of building permits issued, despite a
fall-off in construction and renovation in the surrounding four-county
area and in the nation at large. I conducted this study for the I.U.P.
Center for Local Tax Research.
The study also showed that vacant lot sales increased 16.5% in the
first seven months after the land tax increase, indicating that the
tax was putting pressure on inefficient landowners to develop their
It would seem that cities should tax what they create - i.e., land
values - before they taxes what individuals create - i.e., buildings
(113) A 1980 study funded by the city of New Castle, Pa. found that
seven vacant and two poorly developed sites in the downtown area would
be developed; the owners would save $150,851 in taxes if LVT-only were
adopted. If the county and school systems also adopted LVT-only, those
site owners would then save about $243,750 in taxes. If these sites
were developed, the city would get additional tax revenue. See IT,
(114) I found that when McKeesport, Pa. adopted a two-rate
building-to-land switch in its property tax, the average homeowner
saved 15%. Low-income homeowners did even better because their land
value was generally minuscule; they saved about 29%. A city study
revealed that a wage tax would have cost the average homeowner much
more than a property tax raising the same revenue. See IT, 12/80.
(115) The Center for Community Affairs (C.C.A.) at Indiana University
of Pennsylvania found that after Pittsburgh increased its land tax
rate, the number of building permits issued in Pittsburgh, Pa.
increased markedly. See IT, 12/80.
(116) In another study, I.U.P.'s C.C.A. found that in the year
following McKeesport, Pa.'s switch to LVT, its dollar value of
building permits increased markedly over the previous non-LVT year.
See IT, 12/80.
(117) A study by Daniel Sullivan of 2,000 randomly selected
properties in Pittsburgh found that homeowners would save 30% on their
property taxes with an LVT-only property tax. See IT, 11/81.
(118) A 1980 Washington, D.C. city-council study found that land
values boomed all along the Metro subway line then under construction.
Vacant land that sold for $6 to $8 per square foot rose to $15 to $20
despite sharply rising mortgage rates.
"Before Metro opened," noted local realtor Brenda Engeberg
in the Washington Post, "an average three-bedroom home in
Cheverly [serviced by the Metro] was selling for $45,000 to $50,000
Now most of them are selling for $70,000 and up."
Conclusion: the Metro subway created much of those land value
increases, which, if taxed, would have cost Washington producers
(119) "Assessment officials [in Australia] advocate the [land
value tax] system strongly, stressing their belief that equity is much
more easily achieved in the assessment of unimproved land than in the
assessment of land and buildings together." (U.S. Congressional
Research Service study, 2/12/71, p. 50). See IT, 2/81.
(120) An Incentive Taxation study revealed that the property tax on
buildings in Philadelphia in 1980 taxed away 24% of expected building
income. If this tax were replaced by LVT, then 0% of the building
income would be taxed away. See IT, 2/81.
(121) A 12/02 C.S.E. study showed that 66.9% of the owners of
developed properties in Blairsville, Pa. saved with LVT.
(122) A 1995 study in Falls Church, Va. conducted by Steven Cord
showed that homeowners paid slightly more with LVT (counter to the
usual result). Reason: the town contained almost only homeowners;
there were almost no commercial properties or apartment buildings.
(123) Fairhope, Alabama was founded in 1894 as a Single Tax colony.
In 1980 it had received enough land rent to pay for more than half of
the town's public revenues. It is an attractive town and has far
outgrown its older and much-better-situated neighbors, Battles Wharf
(three miles away) and Daphne (five miles away). See IT, 4/81.
(124) A study by the Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force and funded
by the U.S. Appalachian Regional Commission found that 43% of the
total land area in 80 poverty-stricken Appalachian counties was owned
by absentee individuals and corporations and not much taxed (IT,
5-6/81 per N.Y. Times, 4/5/81).
The biggest four landowners in the region controlled more acreage
than there are in Rhode Island. IT (5-6/81) concluded: "If they
[the residents] wish to give the land rent to absentee corporations,
they should not berate the recipients. The fault is theirs. They are
sitting on great natural riches, yet they languish in poverty because
they allow strangers to take these riches away."
(125) In Columbia, 3% of the population own 60% of the arable land.
In Venezuela, 1.7% own 74.5%. In Chile, 2.2% own 75% (from John
Gunther's Inside South America, 1967). But it's worse in the United
States: less than 3% own 95% of the private land area (U.S.D.A. study
by Gene Wunderlich). See IT, 5-6/81.
(126) Of eight finalists in the Premier Town Contest held in the
state of Victoria, Australia in 1976, seven were LVT-only (the winner
was LVT-only). Only about 62% of the towns in Victoria (of about 90
altogether) were LVT-only.
(127-129) Three studies sponsored by the Danforth Foundation for the
city of St. Louis, the Milwaukee Central Area Study (3/73), and the
H.R. Subcommittee on the City, recommended at least partial LVT. See
IT, Summer 1981.
(130) The League of Women Voters of New Castle, Pa. found that the
majority of New Castle residents would pay less property tax with LVT;
see IT, 9/81. Reason: most residents owned more-than-average building
value (which was taxed) and less-than average land value.
(131) A 1980 study by William Coyne, councilman and chair of the
Finance Committee, using Pittsburgh City Planning Department figures,
found that unincorporated properties (almost entirely residential) had
a building-to-land ratio of 3.3059:l compared to the city's 2.7779:1.
In other words, most Pittsburgh homeowners saved with two-rate LVT.
See IT, 9/81.
As for tenants, they all would save because less building tax would
be passed on to them, but in the long run they pay no land tax at all
(read any basic economics textbook on this).
(132) A study by Allan Hutchinson found that in Kilmore Shire
(Victoria, Aus.), construction grew 104% in the four years prior to
the LVT switch (1967-1970) but 179% in the four years thereafter
(1972-1975; 1971 was a transition year, taxing non-LVT for nine months
and LVT for three months, so it wasn't counted.
Even more important, Kilmore Shire far out-constructed the towns in
its statistical district (which were subject to the same economic
growth influences). Like all his other studies quoted here,
Hutchinson's study was based on original data: building permits per an
Australian government publication. See IT, 10/81.
(133) LVT-only suburbs in Melbourne, Aus. had 59.3% fewer properties
in tax arrears than the non-LVT suburbs (from Allan Hutchinson's
1/7/81 letter to Steven Cord, citing the Australian Bureau of
Statistics). See IT, 10/81. This issue also contains a picture of
Hutchinson, the assiduous LVT researcher.
(134-135) Assessment officials in both Pittsburgh and Scranton, Pa.
reported that after these cities shifted some of their local property
taxes off buildings onto land, there were no significant changes in
assessment appeals. See IT, 10/81.
(136) A New Castle, Pa. study conducted in 1980 by the mayor's office
found that a random sample of 218 of the city's homeowners out of 279
(78.14%) saved with a building-to-land property-tax shift. See IT,
(137) Building permits in McKeesport, Pa. increased 98% in the three
years following 1980 as compared to the average of the three years
prior to its two-rate LVT adoption, whereas in adjacent Duquesne (then
one-rate) the comparable increase was only 12% and in nearby Clairton
(then one-rate) there was a comparable decrease of 44%.
For instance, in January-August 1981, McKeesport's registered a 70%
increase; Duquesne registered an 84% decrease; no comparable figures
were available for Clairton. Both Duquesne and Clairton later adopted
two-rate LVT. See IT 11/81, 12/81.
(138) In New Zealand in the late 1950s, ten large LVT-only cities had
slightly less defaults than three large non-LVT-only cities, thereby
indicating that exempting buildings from local taxation seems to
decrease tax defaults (source: H. Bronson Cowan in a 1961 report
published by the Canadian Federation of Mayors & Municipalities,
p. 31). See IT, 12/81.
(139) Urban Land Institute Research Monograph #4 (p. 28) endorsed LVT
and called it "the golden key to urban renewal - to the automatic
regeneration of the city, and not at public expense." See IT,
(140) In 1981, Pittsburgh city council was considering a mercantile
tax increase that would have cost the Gimbel's department store an
estimated $60,000 more per year, whereas a land tax increase raising
the same revenue would have cost Gimbel's only $8,987 more per year
(note that the $60,000 mercantile tax was undoubtedly passed on as
higher prices to the shoppers at Gimbel's, but not the $8,987 in the
long run). See IT, 1-2/82.
(141) According to a 1977 Pittsburgh City Planning Department study
based on U.S. Census figures, most of the wards having below-average
citywide family incomes would get decreases with a building-to-land
property tax shift. See IT, 1-2/82.
(142) Every U.S. state has laws that require agricultural land to be
assessed at the agricultural-use value (lower than market value). But
according to a USDA Economic Research Service study (reported in IT,
1-2/82), these laws have not preserved agricultural land from
development and give little tax relief to low-income farmers; the
chief beneficiaries have been the largest farmers.
On the other hand, a higher tax on land values would attain more
efficient (and fairer) agricultural land use.
(143) A study entitled "State Taxation and Economic Development"
of the U.S. Council of State Planning Agencies found that a land value
tax facilitates the desirable consolidation of smaller sites; other
benefits were cited. See IT, 1-2/82.
(144) According to a study published in Land Economics (11/71), 21%
of the land area in 13 prominent U.S. cities was vacant yet buildable
upon; our cities are porous. Presumably, the people who would have
lived on that vacant (or partially developed) land are sprawling
instead on nearby suburban and rural land. Only LVT can combat urban
sprawl into the clean-and-green countryside. See IT, 3-4/82.
(145) Buninyong is a rural shire 73 miles west of Melbourne. It was
once famous as a rich gold mining center but its fortunes declined
when the mines played out. In 1972, the local taxpayers, mostly
farmers and cattlemen, voted out the old property tax system and
replace it with LVT-only. No other local taxes were levied.
In its first six years of full LVT-only (1973-78), Buninyong's annual
construction and renovation was 10.54 times more than the annual
construction and renovation of the three years before it switched to
LVT-only. In 1975 and 1976, there was a serious recession in the rural
Victoria building industry, but it did not affect Buninyong. See IT,
3-4/82, based on a Progress study (6/79, p. 3) of A.B.S. statistics,
series catalog # 8703.2.
(146) Researcher Daniel Sullivan found that when McKeesport, Pa.
adopted two-rate LVT, the property tax for the average homeowner was
15% less than it might have been without the two-rate LVT shift. He
found it to be 29% less for working-class homeowners. See IT, 5-6/82.
(147) Only eleven miles separate Wilkes-Barre and Scranton; both are
nestled in the hills of northeastern Pennsylvania. After the Agnes
flood of 1972, Wilkes-Barre was the recipient of massive federal aid,
a veritable flood of federal dollars, but not Scranton. But in 1980,
Scranton almost doubled its tax rate on land assessments (leaving its
building tax rate untouched); in addition, it exempted all newly
constructed commercial and industrial improvements from the property
tax for ten years.
The result was that Scranton's building permits increased 22% in
1980-81 as compared to 1977-79, but Wilkes-Barre suffered a 44% loss
in building permits issued during the same periods of time (Steven
Cord study as reported in IT, Summer/1982).
(148) A 1982 Incentive Taxation study found that the average wage
earner in Philadelphia paid $806 in an annual wage tax, but would pay
only $407 with a land value tax raising the same revenue. See IT,
(149) Researcher Dan Sullivan surveyed Clairton, Pa. in the early
1980s and discovered these interesting facts:
- The deed-transfer tax cost the average homebuyer between $211
and $250, but an LVT raising the same revenue would cost the
average Clairton property owner only $1.19 a year.
- An earned income tax would cost households earning $3,000 or
more (at least 90% of the Clairtonites at that time), but an LVT
raising the same revenue would cost much less per household.
- Occupational Privilege Tax vs. LVT - if both of these taxes
raised the same revenue, an LVT would cost only 40% as much. The
LVT saving would be even more for those households having more
than one worker.
- Per Capita Tax vs. LVT - It costs less to collect the LVT from
the average homeowner than with the Per Capita Tax ($10 vs.
$1.14). But of course, the average household had many taxable
- Residence Tax vs. LVT - The average homeowner pays $5 for the
Residence Tax but only $1.14 with an LVT (same revenue for both).
- Mercantile and Business Privilege Tax vs. LVT - The mercantile
tax costs the average homeowner $1.48 a year and the business
privilege tax costs the average home- owner $14.33 a year compared
to an LVT cost of $1 (assuming the same revenue for all three
taxes). Also, the mercantile and business privilege taxes harmed
the business climate in Clairton while LVT would improve it.
(150) Congressman William Coyne found that after Pittsburgh's land
tax rate was nearly doubled in 1979, vacant lot sales rose 17%, "suggesting
that the new tax made it uncomfortable to just sit on valuable urban
space." See IT, 9-10/82.
(151) The dollar value of Pittsburgh's building permit issuances
increased when the city's land tax rate was greatly increased in 1979.
It jumped 14% as compared to the 1977-78 average, and then jumped 312%
in 1980 (in that year, all new construction, but not the underlying
land value, was granted a three-year property-tax exemption).
In 1981, new construction and renovation exceeded the 1977-8 average
by an astounding 590% despite the decline in Pittsburgh's steel
industry. Nationwide office building starts increased much less in
those years (see IT, 10-11/82).
(152) USDA study, 1978: less than 1% of all landowners in the U.S.
hold 40% of all private land. See IT, 10-11/82.
(153) In 1982, Harrisburg, Pa.'s immense new retail-and-hotel complex
called Strawberry Square save $112,857 a year in property taxes
because of the city's two-rate LVT (when the city shifted more of its
property tax on buildings to land, the savings were greater). See IT,
(154-174) Studies showed that homeowners saved big with LVT in these
21+ cities: Meadville, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Erie, Pittsburgh (all in
Pa.), San Diego, La Mesa, San Marcos, Chula Vista, Delmar, Escondido,
Oceanside, Fresno (all in Cal.), Omaha (Neb.), Port Credit (Ontario),
Washington, D.C., Southfield (Mich.), all cities and the county in
Bergen County (N.J.), South Melbourne and Korumburra (Aus.), Whitsable
(England), and Edmonton (Canada). See IT, 5-6-7/76 and 10/78.
(175-187) With LVT, homeowners saved big, or could have saved big if
they had adopted LVT, in McKeesport and Easton (both in Pa.), New York
City, Grand Island, IL, West Seneca (N.Y.S.), Des Moines (Iowa), San
Diego County (Cal.), St. Louis (Mo.), also five municipalities in
Tasmania, Aus. (see IT, 11-12/82, which also reported that there were
70 cities on Long Island where the homeowners would pay less with LVT
- probably true, but the information was not adequately verified).
(188-189) Homeowners saved in Allentown and Butler (both in Pa.) when
surveys were taken in those cities.
(190) U.S. Rep. Bill Coyne: building permits issued in Pittsburgh for
new housing rose 15% after the land tax was increased in 1979, while
for the same time period they dropped 19% in the rest of the
metropolitan area outside Pittsburgh. See IT, 4/83.
(191) More government building-permit research from Allan Hutchinson:
19 LVT-only road districts in the state of Western Australia
experienced a 38% increase in owner-occupied dwellings from 1929 to
1938 (depression years), whereas 27 non-LVT rural road districts in
that state experienced only a 6.6% increase during the same time.
(192) In the state of South Australia from 1929 to 1938, none of the
14 LVT-only rural road districts experienced a decrease in occupied
dwellings, but 16 of the 53 non-LVT rural road districts in that state
experienced decreases (per Allan Hutchinson, based on Aus. Govt.
(193) A study by Yu Hung Hong for the Lincoln Institute of Land
Policy (LILP) revealed that 39% of the "land-value increments"
were collected by the land-owning government of Hong Kong between 1970
and 1991 from land leased in the 1970s. As it happens, Hong Kong
enjoys prosperity and low taxes on production (Andelson, LVT Around
the World, p. 343).
(194) Singapore is another Asian economic success story. 76% of its
land was state-owned in 1985 (Ibid., p. 345). In 1994, land-leasing
revenue exceeded income-tax revenue (Ibid., p 348). In 1996,
residential properties paid a 4% tax rate on land rental value (Ibid.,
p. 346), nothing on building value.
(195) The Pennsylvania Economy League, a prestigious Pennsylvania
public-policy research organization, in 1988 urged the financially
strapped city of Clairton, an industrial suburb of Pittsburgh, to
adopt a two-rate land-oriented property tax as part of its recovery
plan (p.27). It later urged DuBois, Pa. to adopt two-rate LVT. Both
cities took their advice and their economies improved as a result.
In 2006, the Clairton School District moved to two-rate LVT: 7.5% on
land assessments, coupled with 0.31% on building assessments.
Immediately thereafter, construction and renovation boomed.
(196) After Pittsburgh jumped its land tax rate in 1979 and again in
1980 (without increasing its building tax rate at all), its
nonresidential new construction (in dollar value, adjusted for
inflation) for the four years following was 3.57 times greater than
for the four years previous (P.E.L. report, 1985, p. 16).
(197) Professor Kenneth M. Lusht, Chairman of the Real Estate
Department at the Pennsylvania State University and a prominent U.S.
real-estate research economist, conducted an analysis of 53 Melbourne
(Aus.) municipalities in 1992. Almost half of these were LVT-only. He
"There is evidence that the use of the site value
tax [ed.: the full land rent was far from being taxed] stimulates
development and that the advantage persists in the long run, though
somewhat eroded. The results also suggest that the level of the
property tax in Melbourne, which is similar to levels in typical US
cities, is sufficiently high to affect behavior.
"The site value tax was a consistently significant predictor,
with most specifications showing 40-60 percent more stock per acre
in SV-taxing LGAs [site value-taxing local govt. authorities]."
(198) In 1982, Philadelphia's City Council imposed a 29% property tax
on building income. The effective tax rate on building assessments was
3.83% and the interest rate at the beginning of the fiscal year was
13.3%, meaning that in 1982 the actual tax rate on building income had
become about 29% of current value (3.83%/13.3% = about 29%).
Such a high tax rate on building income amounted to virtual
confiscation of private income, but a higher tax rate on land
assessments could have avoid that. See IT, 5/83.
(199) In 1980, 41% of Ohio farmland is rented out to tenants (The
Ohio Farmer, 8/80). In addition, a large percentage of farmland is
mortgaged, so that economically Ohio farmland (probably elsewhere in
the U.S. also) is only partly owned by the farmers tilling it. Banks,
via mortgages, effectively own most of the farmland in the U.S.
(200) 11.7% of the land area of New York City was vacant yet
buildable upon, according to a research article in the Journal of Land
Economics, 11/71. It would probably be more in many other cities.
(201) Fortune Magazine, 7/73: "In the past 15 years the average
price of land in the U.S. has risen at a rate of about 7% a year. Over
the same period the consumer price index rose at an average rate of
(202) In 2003, the mayor of the city of Harrisburg, Pa., Stephen
Reed, urged the city of Philadelphia to adopt the two-rate [two-tier]
LVT-oriented property tax, which he said had been so successful in
"The two-tier system encourages the highest and
best use of land and rewards those who properly maintain or invest
in buildings. One of the effects of the split-rate tax
[LVT-oriented] is to benefit the lower-income homeowner and small
business owner who struggle more than any others to make ends meet
and to keep and maintain their homes and businesses.
"It also has the residual effect of keeping rents lower than
they otherwise would be for persons in lower income homes and
apartments. It rewards productivity and investment, in contrast to
the single tax rate system which penalizes both."
(203) An April 2003 study by CSE of the entire Pittsburgh assessment
roll revealed that 59.8% of poor homeowners (defined as having a
family income below $30,000/yr.) save with a two-rate building-to-land
(204) Researcher Philip Finkelstein examined the assessment roll of
New York City in the early 1970s and found that 55% of single-family
homeowners in the city would save with LVT; 65% of the 2-family owners
would save. Praeger published his research in 1975. Utilities were the
biggest benefiters, in which case there'd be lower utility bills for
the average utility user.
(205) An anti-LVT testifier asserted before a California legislative
committee that he found that homeowners in Oakland, California paid
slightly more with LVT, but he offered no exact figures or
documentation, and by chance I soon after examined the assessment
register and found that homeowners paid slightly less.
(206) Godfrey Dunkley, an economist and mechanical engineer,
extracted interesting statistics from the official Municipal Yearbooks
of the government of South Africa.
He compared 1959 building assessments to 1979 building assessments
and found that the one-rate towns (taxing land and buildings the same)
increased their total assessments by 486%, but the two-rate towns
(taxing land more than buildings) experienced a 561% increase and the
46 towns that taxed only land assessments experienced an 850%
To be sure, inflation affected all these figures, but note that the
more a town taxed land values, the faster it grew.
Further substantiation for LVT from the same study: the eight towns
that switched from one-rate to two-rate increased their building
assessments by 748%, but the 15 towns that switched to
land-taxing-only increased by 996% (see IT 9/83).
A later Dunkley study of a different time comparison yielded similar
(207) In a letter to me dated 2/26/83, Dunkley reported that LVT
default "is almost unknown here in South Africa." See IT,
9/83. There would seem to be no reason why the down-taxing of
buildings would cause tax default.
(208) Scranton, Pa. almost doubled its LVT rate in 1980, leaving its
tax rate on building assessments untouched. In the three years after
the switch, building permits issued increased 23% in the three years
before the switch, whereas during the same period, nearby
Wilkes-Barre's building permits decreased 47% (eleven miles separates
the two cities, and Wilkes-Barre had been the recipient of a flood of
Steven Cord conducted the research by visiting the city hall of both
cities and personally examined the building records. See IT, 10/83.
(209) After Seymour Shire in rural Victoria, Aus. switched to
LVT-only in September 1981, it experienced an unprecedented building
boom, even though construction throughout Victoria slumped to a
20-year low (as reported by government statistics). Source: Progress
magazine, 12/82-1/83, as reported in IT, 9/83.
(210) Although Pittsburgh was enmeshed in a steel-industry recession
in 1982, its new construction and renovation was 2½ times greater
than the average of the three years prior to its 1979 and 1980
land-tax-rate increases (source: city statistics). See IT, 11/83.
(211) McKeesport, Pa. made a major building-to-land tax switch in
1980. Its building-permit issuance in the three following years
increased by 38% over the three years before, whereas its close
neighbors, Clairton and Duquesne, experienced a decrease of 28% and
20% respectively. All three cities were steel-based. See IT, 11/83.
In 1980 both Clairton and Duquesne were one-rate, though they later
switched to two-rate, like McKeesport.
(This ends our examination of the second bound volume of
Incentive Taxation. We have eight more volumes to examine.)
(212) Economics professors at Drexel University (Phila.) found that
78% of Philadelphia's property owners would save money if the LVT
proposal of the city controller, Jonathan Seidel, was adopted. The
Drexel report was funded by the Greater Phila. Assn. of Realtors,
Phila. BOMA, the Phila. Chamber of Commerce, and others. (Phila.
Business Journal, 5/2-8/03).
(213) In August 1972, the voters in Orbost Shire (in rural Victoria,
Aus.) switched to LVT-only. The three-years-after period had 48.9%
more construction than in the three-years-before (Progress magazine
[Melbourne], 10/77, p. 7; see IT 6/84).
While it may sometime seem to many Americans that Australians are
walking around upside down, that is not so; they are very much like
Americans. Builders throughout the world build more if they are
(214) After the Orbost Shire Sewerage Authority switched to LVT-only
during 1973, its 1974-1976 building-permit issuance increased by 78%
as compared to 1970-1972. See IT, 6/84, citing Progress magazine,
6/75, p. 8).
(215) Kilmore Shire (in rural Victoria, Aus.) issued 24% more
building permits annually than what might have been expected had
Kilmore Shire exhibited the same rate of construction change as its
comparable neighbors (IT, 6/84; source - Progress, 6/75, p. 8, using
(216) Government statistics show that Australia's three states with
the most LVT increased their agricultural acreage, 1938/39 (depression
years) as compared to 1929/30, while the three states with the least
LVT experienced a decrease in agricultural acreage during the same
period. The more these states had LVT, the greater their
agricultural-acreage increase (see IT, 6/84, citing Allan Hutchinson's
Public Charges Upon Land Values, 1961). It would seem that LVT is good
(217) An empirical study of the Melbourne (Australia) area disclosed
that from 1921 to 1940, suburban municipalities using LVT built 2.12
times more houses per building-available acres than similar
neighborhoods taxing real-estate income - "similar" means
taking size, distance from the center of Melbourne, and
residential-industrial mix into account (G. A. Forster in Progress
magazine, 9/64, p. 5).
(218) I performed a study of suburban/agricultural White Township,
Pa. in 1984 and found that the average homeowner would pay a land tax
that would be 31.1% of his or her wage tax, with both taxes raising
the same revenue. The land-tax saving are much greater for those
households with more than one wage earner. See IT, 12/84.
(219) Fairhope, Alabama paid some of its municipal expenses with the
equivalent of a land value tax. It grew faster than its older and
better-situated neighbors, Daphne and Point Clear. See IT, 12/84.
(220) Pittsburgh, Pa. increased its land tax rate, but not its
building tax rate, in 1979 and then again in 1980. Its 1979
building-permit issuance was 14% greater in 1979 than in the previous
years of 1977 and 1978, but in 1980 it was 312% greater and in 1981,
590% greater (despite a sharp steel slump). See IT, 12/84.
(221) In 1976, the Land Use Taxation Study Committee of the Indiana
legislature concluded: "Property tax should be restructured so
that the tax is levied on land and not the buildings and other
improvements to the land." See IT, 12/84.
(222) After reviewing the Assessment Register in Scranton, Pa.,
Austin Burke, president of the Chamber of Commerce, reported: "We've
experienced positive development from this [LVT]
. We would
rather have a land-only tax phased in over several years." See
(223) A 3% tax rate on building assessments is equivalent to a 30%
excise tax on building profits, given an interest rate of 10% (IT).
Such a tax would seem to discourage new construction and renovation.
With LVT, that needn't be.
(224-233) Generally, a building-to-land shift in the local property
tax in the U.S. would reduce the property tax on factories. Reductions
would occur in ten localities surveyed (two outside the U.S.): Erie
County, N.Y., Des Moines, Iowa, Easton, Pa., Wellington, N.Z., Sydney,
Aus., Nassau County, L.I., N.Y., Philadelphia, Pa., Milwaukee, Wisc.,
Erie, Pa., and Altoona, Pa. See IT, 1/85.
(234) Researcher Robert Willis of Des Moines, Iowa found that if the
state subsidy to local school systems was replaced by an LVT, the
average homeowner would pay $550 less in total taxes. See IT, 1/85.
(235) All four farms within the city limits of Altoona, Pa. would
save with a building-to-land shift in the property tax. See IT, 1/85.
Altoona is now a two-rate LVT-oriented city.
(236) A study by the assessment division of the city of Schenectady,
N.Y. showed that single-family homeowners would pay very slightly more
with a building-to-land tax shift, but two and three-family homes
would receive substantial tax cuts.
In the long run, apartment houses owners would save big (reason: big
building on moderately priced residential land). Their tenants would
pay less because there'll be less building taxes passed on to them and
in the long run the land tax can never be passed on to them. See IT,
(237) "A recent study estimated the market value of this
spectrum [a section of the airwaves] at $770 billion" (Norman
Ornstein and Michael Calabrese in the Washington Post, 8/12/03, A13).
A 10% tax on that (equivalent to a land tax) could yield annual
revenue of about $77 billion and would ensure efficient use of the
(238) The Best Study of Them All: Pittsburgh had been taxing land
assessments more than building assessments ever since 1915, but for
the year 2001 and thereafter, it reverted to taxing both types of
assessments at the same rate.
Why did the city do that? This question is irrelevant to our current
concerns, but let us consider it briefly anyway: the well-to-do voters
in Pittsburgh were suddenly aroused to fever pitch about their
property tax as never before because their new countywide land
assessments were suddenly increased overnight by five-to-eight times -
an absolute political no-no (most county elected officials lost their
These well-to-do voters thought they would pay less if they got the
land tax rate brought down to the building tax rate, not realizing
that this would require a precipitous increase in their building tax
rate (as well as an increase in property taxes for most Pittsburghers)
so they pressured their city council to reduce the land tax rate. They
were completely unaware of the many pro-LVT studies in Pittsburgh and
After it rescinded its land tax, Pittsburgh suffered a 19.57% decline
(adjusted for inflation) in private new construction in the three
years after rescission as compared to the three years before, even
though during the same time period, the value of all construction
nationwide (as measured by building permits, increased 7.7% (also
Examining and evaluating all 13,457 of Pittsburgh's building permits
for the six-year period took about 200 hours. The full details of the
study are reported in IT 5/04).
A computer examination of the entire Pittsburgh assessment roll found
that 54% of all homeowners paid more property tax with the rescission.
As for tenants per se, they all would eventually have to pay more
space-rent because in the long run, the increased building tax would
be passed on to them but not the land value tax (see any basic
economics textbook for this). Since big cities have many tenants (both
residential and business) their citizenry would particularly benefit
from the taxation of land values.
The Pittsburghers hurt themselves, à la Samson, but this LVT
rescission has actually been a blessing in disguise because it enables
us to examine the effect on construction of a land-to-building tax
I - Validity
But how valid are these studies? Could other factors have been the
main cause of economic growth? Here follows a discussion of their
1) Logic maintains that if we tax buildings, fewer will be built and
they'll be more expensive because their price will have to include the
tax. But if we tax land more, we'll encourage its fuller use and lower
price (you'll surely pay less for a land-site if it is taxed) and
land-sites would have to be productively used in order to generate at
least enough income to pay the tax (especially when the use will be
Simply put: most people will get tax reductions from a
building-to-land tax switch because they get little income from land.
That surely is not the case with any other tax.
2) Original Sources - All the empirical studies are based on original
data - building permits issued and kept on file by local governments.
When someone wants to build something, they must take out a carefully
reviewed building permit. The actual construction costs are carefully
investigated. Governments everywhere (including the U.S. Census
Bureau) use building permits to measure new construction.
3) Economic growth always followed a building-to-land tax switch. If
only five or six cases could have been cited, or maybe eight, other
factors could possibly explain the growth, but surely not in hundreds
The very best evidence: 63 studies compared the economic growth of
the land-taxing localities to neighboring non-LVT localities subject
to the same economic influences (or where relevant, to national
averages). The growth of the land-taxing localities always exceeded
that of their neighbors.
4) In my own 18 formal empirical studies, there were no other factors
that could refute the conclusion that if land is taxed, economic
growth and lower taxes for most taxpayers ensue.
In these studies, I compared the building permits issued in the 3
years after the land-value switch to the 3 years before precisely
because I wanted to eliminate other possible factors (longer periods
might introduce other factors and shorter periods might not allow
enough time for new construction to begin). Whenever I could, I
compared the building permits issued in my two-rate cities with
neighboring one-rate-but-otherwise-comparable cities, and the two-rate
cities always out-constructed their neighbors.
5) Many competent researchers concurred - At least 48 researchers
other than me authored these studies. Seventeen of them were economics
6) Peer-Reviewed - Two of these researchers authored a peer-reviewed
article published in the Journal of Urban Economics (3/00). All my
conclusions reached when the research was done (1995) were completely
7) No contradicting empirical studies - I assiduously reviewed as
much of the scholarly land-tax literature as I could and found no
contradicting empirical studies (have you ever seen any?).
8) Widely endorsed - Literally hundreds of well-known historical
personalities and urban officials have endorsed this proposal.
Perhaps you have thought "If LVT is so good, why hasn't it been
more widely adopted?" Answer: none of the endorsers knew how to
implement it. If you don't act after reading this tremendous mass of
empirical evidence, then you have the answer.
II - Caveat
Don't implement this tax all at once, otherwise a few property owners
may suddenly receive big property-tax increases. Just lower the
property tax rate on building assessments by 20% in each of the next
five years while raising the property tax rate to maintain government
revenue. Specify that no individual property owner need pay more than
a 3% annual tax increase. Be sure to measure the building permits
issued, before & after.
III - Conclusion
These empirical studies, and there are many more, clearly indicate
that it is better to tax locations rather than production. Don't tax
jobs, tax locations instead. To continue taxing buildings is like
driving a car by pressing on the gas and brake pedals at the same
The Australian studies in this compilation (there are many more) have
been compiled by Alan Hutchinson from Aus. govt. statistics at H.
Bronson Cowan's suggestion. For how-to-do-it information (free, no
obligation) contact Steven B. Cord, Professor-Emeritus, IUP). 10528
Cross Fox Lane, Columbia MD 21044 (suburb of Washington, D.C.)
In 1995, Professor Nicolaus Tideman of Virginia Tech University and
his graduate student, Florenz Plassmann (now a professor at the
University of Binghamton) completed a highly technical study of land
value taxation as used in the Pennsylvania cities. It was entitled "A
Markov Chain Monte Carlo Analysis of the Effect of Two-Rate Property
Taxes on Construction." It was peer-reviewed and published in the
Journal of Urban Economics (3/00, pp. 216-47). It concluded as
"The results say that in all four categories of
construction, an increase in the effective tax differential [between
land and buildings]  is associated with an increase in the
average value per permit.  In the case of residential housing, a
1% increase in the effective tax differential is associated with a
12% increase in the average value per unit.
"From the perspective of economic theory, it is not at all
surprising that when taxes are taken off of buildings, people build
more valuable buildings. But it is nice to see the numbers."
This study confirmed all the Pennsylvania studies completed when the
study was done (then 15, now 21). Hundreds more empirical studies are