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February 20, 2007 | South Carolina Headlines


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Taxing people: Reasons to not tax homeowners
Letters to the Editor
December 5, 2005

by Becky Fagg

Associate Editor of The State newspaper, Cindi Ross Scoppe’s  November 15th editorial “Reasons to tax homes far outweigh reasons not to tax them” criticizes homeowners for complaining about their property taxes misses an important point.  The issue isn’t about taxing houses – no house has ever paid a dime in taxes – it’s about taxing people whose incomes do not always rise as rapidly as taxes and inflation.  She thinks homeowners are trying to pull a fast one by pushing for the removal of the permanent government tax lien on their homes, although she admits that some are forced out of their homes because they can’t pay the annual tax.  She says she is sure it doesn’t happen all that much.  But she has no way of knowing how many people are hanging on by their financial fingernails because of the inflated assessed values of their homes.

I talk with people every day who are struggling to pay their property taxes and hold on to their homes, they can’t believe that after paying off a 30-year mortgage they find themselves living in a home the government has valued so far beyond their means.  If they applied for a bank loan today on the assessed value on their own home, they couldn’t qualify based on their current incomes. Tax-and-spend supporters tell them property taxes are not subject to economic downturns, but people’s lives certainly are.  Where is the fairness in guaranteeing economic protection for government while the people who fund government have no protection against the rising costs of existence?

By the time the bills are paid for food, clothing, heating/cooling, medicine, car maintenance and insurance, home insurance, taxes, and all the rest, there’s not much left over for anything else, especially for people relying on Social Security.  The present annual inflation rate is 4.9%.  Social Security beneficiaries will get a 4.1% cost-of-living adjustment in 2006, which means they’re falling behind again.

Retirees are not the only group facing a property tax bind.  Thanks to extremely low interest rates in recent years many young people have been able to buy very expensive houses.  They are counting on increased incomes to help stagflation will throw many of them into the same boat as retirees who are already feeling financial pain. Ms. Scoppe didn’t realize she was insulting several thousand others and me by suggesting that our demand for the removal of the property tax on owner-occupied homes was little more than an attempt to escape paying for community upkeep.  “(Property taxes)  make it difficult to avoid your obligation to pay for your community services,” she wrote.  “If you do away with property taxes you’ll wind up with a significant number of people who receive the full benefit of having good police and fire service and amenities, but pay less than their fair share for them.”

Hold on a second, what about the thousands of properties exempt from property tax, shouldn’t the owners of those properties have a chance to participate in supporting community services, too?  And  why the claim that upscale houses consume a greater share of police and fire department services than other property?  It’s a fallacy to say that if robbers break into a heavily assessed home there is more police expense involved, that’s not so.  The loss is borne by the homeowner and an insurance company, not the community.  Likewise, fire departments don’t check a home’s valuation before responding to a call, nor do taxpayers pick up the bill for damages done.  Highly taxed homes do not “consume more community services”  than lightly taxed ones.

I ask Ms. Scoppe and others who believe the property tax is a fair tax to remember that it is not houses that are being taxed, these taxes are paid by people who far too often are unable to pay them without heavy sacrifices.  Telling them they are rich because of the value of their homes is an insult.  “House rich and cash poor” is becoming a way of life for far too many good people who just want to hang on to their homes and enjoy their life without fear of losing the home they have worked so hard to purchase.

The reasonable thing to do is eliminate the tax burden on owner-occupied homes and increase the sales tax so that persons now escaping their responsibility for supporting their communities,  including the significant underground economy, can pay their fair share.  We believe the swap of property tax for sales tax should be tempered by eliminating the sales tax on groceries.

Supporters of keeping property taxes on personal homes make a big mistake when they leave the human element out of their arguments.   There is no rational way to measure a person’s true ability to pay property tax increases solely by the size or location of his house.

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