Trading sales taxes for property tax relief : a study in equity and fiscal illusion
Yeary, Paula Elizabeth
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This research draws upon several theoretical perspectives on taxation to analyze the effects of using sales taxes to fund homestead exemptions. Using a 2001 telephone survey of county residents and tax digest data, this research seeks to understand how the property tax relief program adopted by DeKalb County, Georgia affects the county’s tax distribution and residents’ awareness of their tax burdens. Specifically, the research tests for changes in the county’s tax distribution with the Kakwani and Suits progessivity measures, finding that the tax relief program results in a more regressive tax system, in the aggregate, than the prior system, ceteris paribus. However, the sales tax also lowers the average tax liability of residents, which is likely due to tax exportation. By testing the underlying assumptions of the debt illusion and tax complexity hypotheses from the fiscal illusion literature, the research finds that the public perceives with relative accuracy the property tax shifting that occurs from landlords to tenants, yet does not accurately perceive their households’ annual sales tax payments. Even though residents overestimate their household’s sales tax liabilities, they strongly prefer sales taxes to property taxes. As local governments search for politically acceptable revenue sources like the sales tax in order to decrease property tax burdens, programs such as the one studied here may be emulated. For this reason, it is important to understand its impact on residents.