Friday, January 05, 2007

Why a Well-Administered Property Tax Matters

Louisiana is notorious for the poor quality of its property tax administration. Tax assessors are elected, and have a reputation for under-assessing properties. As a result, the "assessed value" of a Louisiana home (that is, the value of a home for property tax purposes) often has little to do with the home's market value. The Times-Picayune's Stephanie Grace tells it like it is:
The property rolls have been corrupted by sloppy practices and laziness, and in some cases outright bad faith, by elected assessors who have long courted favor with voters by systematically lowballing, rather than fairly and accurately evaluate property values.
This is all bad from a fairness perspective-- property taxes should be based on your home's actual value, not based on how much you bribe your assessor--but has been par for the course in Louisiana for a long time (as, in fairness, it was for a long time in most other states). But now this venality is coming back to bite Louisiana homeowners. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana policymakers have implemented a program called "Road Home," which is designed (among other things) to reimburse Louisiana homeowners whose homes were at least partially uninsured. Problem is, to reimburse for losses in home value you actually have to know how much a home was worth. And the complete disjunction between assessed value and market value in many areas of Louisiana means that when the state needs to actually know how much a home is really worth, the property tax system simply can't tell you.

Despite this limitation, the Road Home program is an important rebuilding tool available to Louisianans hit hardest by the hurricanes. Find out more at