Re: [LincolnTalk] Some thoughts on taxes / property tax

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Re: [LincolnTalk] Some thoughts on taxes / property tax

Dennis Liu

In the other email sent earlier this evening, I wrote: 

>I wrote a somewhat lengthy email to this list last November, in which I did a bit of a deep dive.  Using simple math to demonstrate that four people with the exact same net worth could end up living in homes of vastly different values – and end up paying vastly different sums of property tax.  Lots of folks don’t really think about this/realize this, but this fact certainly complicates the tax debate.

>The property tax we have today is a *proxy* for a progressive wealth on tax; it kinda sorta works, in that people with more wealth typically can afford more expensive housing, and thus can be taxed more.  But it isn’t perfect!  And because it’s not perfect, we may well have lots of situations where someone with a net worth of $3mm pays far less taxes than someone with a net worth of $500k.  Indeed, we may end up with a situation where that $500k net worth person ends up subsidizing the far wealthier person.

Someone requested that I forward this, so am sending it to the List at large; see #2 below.  <hit delete now if you’d like; math an economics below>

 

Vty,

 

--Dennis

 

From: Dennis Liu <[hidden email]>
Sent: Sunday, November 25, 2018 8:40 PM
To: '<[hidden email]>' <[hidden email]>
Subject: Some thoughts on taxes / property tax

 

Some food for thought on the nature of taxation in general, and property taxes in particular (and not really related to the school vote).

 

 

1.  Progressive vs regressive taxation schemes

 

Allen wrote:  >”That being said, some towns in the State and elsewhere in the U.S. have successfully created what is in effect a progressive property tax scale - rather than the “flat” tax that most communities use.  This can be accomplished in several ways, one being to increase the nominal rate, coupled with rebates to various classes of property owners.  I think this is a worthy concept, and feasible.”

 

I feel compelled to point out that property taxes are actually pretty progressive already.  One can argue that it should be more progressive, of course, but even a traditional definition of a “flat” tax implies that it’s progressive.  A flat income tax, simply put, is one that applies the same rate to all income, so that someone who earns $1.5mm pays 20%, or $300k, while someone who earns $80k pays 20%, or $16k.  Of course, most proposed implementations make that even more progressive by adding features like deductions and exemptions, but, generally, flat taxes are indeed progressive.

 

I’ll further cite what I wrote back in May, in response to something that Jean Palmer proposed:

 

==========

>For the avoidance of doubt then, Jean, the current system of using property tax revenue to fund public education is actually PROGRESSIVE.  Not perfectly, of course, but close enough, in that, generally speaking, wealthier people live in more expensive housing, which in turn incurs high property tax levies.

 

Thus, in Lincoln and in most communities, people with more expensive housing (assumed to be wealthier by definition, even if income will not correlate perfectly) end up paying MORE PER RESIDENT for education.

 

Jean, is this “more equitable” in your mind?  That the “wealthy” pay more for public education?  Or would you rather see a more regressive tax scheme, such that everyone pays the same amount?

 

As an aside, whether this is a “feature” or “bug” is another interesting topic for a separate discussion.  When the government provides a service to people, it’s almost always via progressive funding (since the vast majority of federal revenue is from income and capital gains taxes, and state and local income tax and property tax are also progressive).   If a private enterprise provides the same service and charges a fee to the recipient, that’s arguably regressive.  Broadly speaking then, shifting as much activity from the private sector to the government sector increases the “progressivity” of the service; whether that’s a desired goal or a horrible flaw depends, one supposes, on one’s POV.  

===========

 

 

2.  Everybody understands the concept of fungibility, right?  Keep that in mind while I go through the following hypothetical.

 

If Jane Smith owns a $900,000 house with a $300,000 mortgage, and has $100,000 in other investments and savings, she has a net worth of $700,000.  Dick Jones has a $2mm house with a $1.5mm mortgage, and savings of $200,000, he has a net worth of $700,000.  Sam Spade lives in a tiny condo worth $100,000 with a $50,000 mortgage but has an investment portfolio worth $650,000 – he has the same net worth of $700,000.  Finally, let’s consider Emily Brown with no savings and no investments, but owns outright a house worth $700,000, for a net worth of, yes, $700,000  (all of this is complicated by taxes and such, but put that aside and stay with me.) 

 

 

Let’s further assume that each of these people make the same annual income. 

 

If we’re raising property taxes, then we have a situation where Dick Jones ends up paying a lot more in property tax than the other three folks.  Even though he has the same net worth as the other three, and even though he makes the same money as the other three folks. 

 

Is this fair?  Some will say no; others will say, yes, because that’s the ad valorem tax system we’ve traditionally used to raise tax revenue in local governments, so someone who chooses to buy an expensive house has to pay more than others.  Remember, we do not assess an ad valorem tax on net worth – just real property.  Which provides a disincentive to buy a more expensive house, since you don’t have to pay an annual tax on the value of your savings account, or stock portfolio, or that Picasso in your living room.

 

So be it; that’s what we all signed up for, right?  Those are the rules of the game?  Don’t want to pay a lot in property taxes?  Buy a smaller or much smaller house, or find a cheaper town.

 

Well, consider this. 

 

Let’s change the hypothetical a bit.  Let’s say that each of our examples, each with a net worth of $700,000, live on a small pension and social security, and each are barely able to cover their monthly expenses.  When this tax increase passes, Emily ends up being forced to pay a lot more in property tax than, say, Sam.  Is that “fair”?  That’s the same tax system that she signed up for, right?  Same as Dick Jones and Jane Smith, both of whom pay yet more in property tax?

 

But what if Emily can’t afford to pay the new tax increase, since she’s already at the edge of her budget?  Should we, as a community feel bad for her, even though she has a net worth that is the same as everyone else?  If she should get some sort of exemption or tax credit, isn’t that unfair to Sam Spade, who is in the same position, in terms of net worth and income, but doesn’t live in a nice $700,000 house?  Aren’t we then, as taxpayers, supporting Emily’s consumption of a nice house (one that’s bigger and nicer than Sam’s)?

 

Similarly, while both Jane and Dick have savings of $100,000 and $200,000, respectively, that they can dip into to pay the extra tax (remember, they’re barely covering their expenses with their income before the additional property tax), no one seems to be proposing that their property tax be reduced or rebated, right?  After all, “they can afford it!  They don’t have to take out a loan to pay the tax!”  Ah, but money is, still, fungible.  Because while they have savings, their net worth is exactly the same as Emily.  Leaving aside the friction of a new mortgage or HELOC, it’s the same thing whether you have either (1) a $500,000 mortgage on your house and $500,000 in an investment account, or (2) no mortgage and no investments.

 

The bottom line is that each of Jane, Dick, Sam and Emily have the same amount of net wealth, and are all barely living within their means.  But we’re asking some of them to pay more, or a lot more, just by virtue of the way their portfolio is allocated.

 

Look, we get it – nobody likes the idea of someone having to take out a home loan to pay additional property tax.  But let’s not kid ourselves – most people who own a house in Lincoln have a net worth well above the national average. 

 

And, yes, there are no doubt some or even many folks in town who are homeowners and have small or zero or even negative net worth; that’s not disputed.  Rather, for all of this discussion about “reducing the tax burden for the most vulnerable”, let’s make sure that we are indeed targeting THOSE folks with small or zero or even negative net worth – and not necessarily those with a large amount of equity in their home, rather than invested in, say, mutual funds.

 

3.  The concept of tax incidence.

 

Kathryn wrote:  >”If those are households a significant number of the lower income numbers are most likely renters correct?  Renters do not directly pay property taxes although their rent can obviously increase.”

 

I apologize in advance to everyone who is well aware of the concept of tax incidence.  I dive into this a bit here only because, to my surprise, some folks haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about what it really means.  So sorry if this is pedantic, but I’ll try to keep it simple, as it pertains to Kathryn’s point – and she’s right, rents will indeed increase….

 

Tax incidence is the concept of (simplified down to) “WHO really pays the tax?”  A classic example is the payroll tax.  Half of the payroll tax is “paid by the employer”, and half by the employee.  But is it, really?  After all, the employer is paying a total of $X to hire the employee.  That amount includes not only the salary, but also benefits, the payroll tax, and various other taxes and fees.  Put simply, $X is the total amount that the employer has to pay out in order to get another worker.  So if the payroll tax wasn’t assessed 50:50, and instead the employee was forced to pay “all of it”, does . . . $X change?  Probably not.  Because the employee would receive an amount from the employer equal to 50% of the payroll tax, and then the employee would write a bigger check to the government.

 

Now, if we were to dive deeper, we could spend some time talking about price inelasticity.  But for our purposes, the point remains – tax incidence means figuring out who ultimately pays the tax.  That’s why “corporate” taxes are so misleading.  Corporations don’t pay tax!  Oh, sure, they might cut the check, but, ultimately, it’s the shareholders – the mutual funds, pension funds, hedge funds, but ultimately, their investors too – that pay the tax.  Yes, there are all sorts of maneuvers companies can engage in to reduce the corporate tax owed, but the INCIDENCE of the corporate tax is ultimately on the shareholders.

 

So – what’s the tax incidence on renters?  Renters pay $Y per month for their housing.  That $Y might be just rent, but it might also include fees, electricity, heat, or other expenses.  Or, the landlord might offer to cover all expenses EXCEPT the rent.  But regardless, a renter will pay $Y per month – because the landlord needs to make up the electricity and oil expense from somewhere. 

 

Thus, if property taxes go up on rental housing, those additional property taxes are going to, ultimately, be levied upon the renters.  (Yes, due to the question of price elasticity, not all of it might land on the renters, if we get into the weeds, but over time, given comparable examples, the tax will ultimately be paid by the renters, or close to it.)

 

----------

Enough for now.

 

HTH,

 

--Dennis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From: Lincoln <[hidden email]> On Behalf Of Allen Vander Meulen III
Sent: Sunday, November 25, 2018 9:00 AM
To: <[hidden email]> <[hidden email]>
Subject: Re: [LincolnTalk] A tale of two (or three) Lincolns - how to bridge the gap, talk across the divide?

 

The Town approved a property tax rebate as part of the Housing Commission’s “Affordable Accessory Apartment” [“AAA"] initiative a couple of years ago.  The rebate requires approval by the State Legislature, which has proven to be difficult (and time-consuming) to get.  It is still pending, and at this point such approval is still uncertain.  

 

That being said, some towns in the State and elsewhere in the U.S. have successfully created what is in effect a progressive property tax scale - rather than the “flat” tax that most communities use.  This can be accomplished in several ways, one being to increase the nominal rate, coupled with rebates to various classes of property owners.  I think this is a worthy concept, and feasible.  But, given our experience with the AAA program’s rebate, it will almost certainly be a difficult, multi-year process, if it happens at all.  

 

...Happy to accept assistance from others who would like to pursue this too!

 

- Allen Vander Meulen

 

 

 

On Nov 25, 2018, at 6:25 AM, Andrew Payne <[hidden email]> wrote:

 


Bijoy Misra wrote:

 

Good question.  20% operate below 75k. The next 15% also could be vulnerable.

How do we create tax relief? 

 

Lincoln offers every tax relief program permitted by state law (as others have noted).  Moreover, we can only offer programs allowed by the state -- towns cannot invent their own tax policies.   

 

As of June 2018, the program participation is:

  • Veterans:  22
  • Blind (37A):  1
  • Elderly (41D): 5
  • Deferrals (41A): 6
  • Hardship (18A):  1

(Note:  there may be some double counting).  In addition, the workoff program (with no asset/income test) has 29 seniors and 4 veterans.  Also, there is a state income tax circuit breaker.  See details on page 13:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1KevG2b3XxWyZypK1t-aI5ouwHi65KV7nzKob0FuMLAw/edit#

 

How can we get more enrolled in these existing programs?  

 

For possible new programs, see the report from a town working group, recently posted here:  http://lincoln.2330058.n4.nabble.com/LincolnTalk-Senior-Means-Tested-Property-Tax-Reduction-Program-td16636.html

 

 

Can the project be phased such that the stress is less? 

 

Financial phasing is certainly possible and has been extensively discussed at various committee meetings.  But there's a critical tradeoff:  the more borrowing we defer (to phase in interest payments and tax bills), the more we are exposed to future interest rate movements.  

 

Small rate changes have a big impact, and it may not be the best idea to have that much riding on interest rates 1-2 years down the road.  Form your own opinion, of course, but the market consensus is that rates are certainly not going down anytime soon.

 

 

 Is that an option in the meeting?

 

I certainly expect phasing discussion at the meeting, but residents vote the authorization to borrow, not the borrowing details.  

 

The borrowing is done by the Town Treasurer, with BOS approval and advice from the town's finance team (town manager, finance director, finance committee).  The motion text is attached below.

 

One person's view,

 

-andy

 

 

 

TOWN OF LINCOLN

SPECIAL TOWN MEETING

DECEMBER 1, 2018

PROPOSED SCHOOL BUILDING PROJECT

 

MOTION under ARTICLE 1 School Committee

Moved: That the Town appropriate the amount of ninety-three million

nine hundred thousand dollars ($93,900,000), to be expended under the

direction of the Lincoln School Building Committee, for costs of designing,

renovating, rebuilding, equipping, and furnishing the Lincoln School located

on Ballfield Road, Lincoln, MA, including the payment of all costs incidental

or related thereto. To meet this appropriation: 1) the Treasurer is

authorized, with the approval of the Selectmen, to borrow $88,500,000

under the provisions of G.L. c.44B, G.L. c.44 and/or any other enabling

authority and to issue bonds or notes of the Town therefor; and further, that

any premium received by the Town upon the sale of any bonds or notes

approved by this vote, less any premium applied to the payment of the costs

of issuance of such bonds or notes, may be applied to the payment of costs

approved by this vote in accordance with G.L. c.44, §20, thereby reducing by

a like amount the amount authorized to be borrowed to pay such costs; 2)

the sum of $ 4,400,000 be transferred from the Stabilization Fund; and 3)

the sum of $1,000,000 be transferred from Free Cash; provided, however,

that the vote taken hereunder shall be expressly contingent upon approval

by the voters of a ballot question to exclude the amounts required in order

to pay for the bond and/or any notes issued for said building project

pursuant to the provisions of Proposition 2 ½, so called. Further, that the

School Committee is authorized: (i) to lease school property to be used by a

solar energy provider to erect, operate and maintain solar energy facilities;

(ii) to enter into renewable energy power purchase and/or net metering

credit or similar agreements, with such agreements to be for a term of up to

30 years and on such other terms as the School Committee deems in the

best interest of the Town; and (iii) to enter into payment in lieu of tax

agreements pursuant to G.L. c.59, §38H(b) in connection with such facilities;

and to take whatever additional action may be required to effectuate said

lease and solar agreements.

 

 

 

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Re: [LincolnTalk] Some thoughts on taxes / property tax

Bijoy Misra
Dennis,
With your expertise in these matters you could be an asset to the Tax committee.
Though much can't possibly be done, your expertise can help people analyze well.
I do see lack of expertise in many volunteer operations, people are learning
on the job.  You could be different.
Best regards,
Bijoy
PS.  I am not a detailed man in tax matters.

On Fri, Oct 4, 2019 at 12:16 AM Dennis Liu <[hidden email]> wrote:

In the other email sent earlier this evening, I wrote: 

>I wrote a somewhat lengthy email to this list last November, in which I did a bit of a deep dive.  Using simple math to demonstrate that four people with the exact same net worth could end up living in homes of vastly different values – and end up paying vastly different sums of property tax.  Lots of folks don’t really think about this/realize this, but this fact certainly complicates the tax debate.

>The property tax we have today is a *proxy* for a progressive wealth on tax; it kinda sorta works, in that people with more wealth typically can afford more expensive housing, and thus can be taxed more.  But it isn’t perfect!  And because it’s not perfect, we may well have lots of situations where someone with a net worth of $3mm pays far less taxes than someone with a net worth of $500k.  Indeed, we may end up with a situation where that $500k net worth person ends up subsidizing the far wealthier person.

Someone requested that I forward this, so am sending it to the List at large; see #2 below.  <hit delete now if you’d like; math an economics below>

 

Vty,

 

--Dennis

 

From: Dennis Liu <[hidden email]>
Sent: Sunday, November 25, 2018 8:40 PM
To: '<[hidden email]>' <[hidden email]>
Subject: Some thoughts on taxes / property tax

 

Some food for thought on the nature of taxation in general, and property taxes in particular (and not really related to the school vote).

 

 

1.  Progressive vs regressive taxation schemes

 

Allen wrote:  >”That being said, some towns in the State and elsewhere in the U.S. have successfully created what is in effect a progressive property tax scale - rather than the “flat” tax that most communities use.  This can be accomplished in several ways, one being to increase the nominal rate, coupled with rebates to various classes of property owners.  I think this is a worthy concept, and feasible.”

 

I feel compelled to point out that property taxes are actually pretty progressive already.  One can argue that it should be more progressive, of course, but even a traditional definition of a “flat” tax implies that it’s progressive.  A flat income tax, simply put, is one that applies the same rate to all income, so that someone who earns $1.5mm pays 20%, or $300k, while someone who earns $80k pays 20%, or $16k.  Of course, most proposed implementations make that even more progressive by adding features like deductions and exemptions, but, generally, flat taxes are indeed progressive.

 

I’ll further cite what I wrote back in May, in response to something that Jean Palmer proposed:

 

==========

>For the avoidance of doubt then, Jean, the current system of using property tax revenue to fund public education is actually PROGRESSIVE.  Not perfectly, of course, but close enough, in that, generally speaking, wealthier people live in more expensive housing, which in turn incurs high property tax levies.

 

Thus, in Lincoln and in most communities, people with more expensive housing (assumed to be wealthier by definition, even if income will not correlate perfectly) end up paying MORE PER RESIDENT for education.

 

Jean, is this “more equitable” in your mind?  That the “wealthy” pay more for public education?  Or would you rather see a more regressive tax scheme, such that everyone pays the same amount?

 

As an aside, whether this is a “feature” or “bug” is another interesting topic for a separate discussion.  When the government provides a service to people, it’s almost always via progressive funding (since the vast majority of federal revenue is from income and capital gains taxes, and state and local income tax and property tax are also progressive).   If a private enterprise provides the same service and charges a fee to the recipient, that’s arguably regressive.  Broadly speaking then, shifting as much activity from the private sector to the government sector increases the “progressivity” of the service; whether that’s a desired goal or a horrible flaw depends, one supposes, on one’s POV.  

===========

 

 

2.  Everybody understands the concept of fungibility, right?  Keep that in mind while I go through the following hypothetical.

 

If Jane Smith owns a $900,000 house with a $300,000 mortgage, and has $100,000 in other investments and savings, she has a net worth of $700,000.  Dick Jones has a $2mm house with a $1.5mm mortgage, and savings of $200,000, he has a net worth of $700,000.  Sam Spade lives in a tiny condo worth $100,000 with a $50,000 mortgage but has an investment portfolio worth $650,000 – he has the same net worth of $700,000.  Finally, let’s consider Emily Brown with no savings and no investments, but owns outright a house worth $700,000, for a net worth of, yes, $700,000  (all of this is complicated by taxes and such, but put that aside and stay with me.) 

 

 

Let’s further assume that each of these people make the same annual income. 

 

If we’re raising property taxes, then we have a situation where Dick Jones ends up paying a lot more in property tax than the other three folks.  Even though he has the same net worth as the other three, and even though he makes the same money as the other three folks. 

 

Is this fair?  Some will say no; others will say, yes, because that’s the ad valorem tax system we’ve traditionally used to raise tax revenue in local governments, so someone who chooses to buy an expensive house has to pay more than others.  Remember, we do not assess an ad valorem tax on net worth – just real property.  Which provides a disincentive to buy a more expensive house, since you don’t have to pay an annual tax on the value of your savings account, or stock portfolio, or that Picasso in your living room.

 

So be it; that’s what we all signed up for, right?  Those are the rules of the game?  Don’t want to pay a lot in property taxes?  Buy a smaller or much smaller house, or find a cheaper town.

 

Well, consider this. 

 

Let’s change the hypothetical a bit.  Let’s say that each of our examples, each with a net worth of $700,000, live on a small pension and social security, and each are barely able to cover their monthly expenses.  When this tax increase passes, Emily ends up being forced to pay a lot more in property tax than, say, Sam.  Is that “fair”?  That’s the same tax system that she signed up for, right?  Same as Dick Jones and Jane Smith, both of whom pay yet more in property tax?

 

But what if Emily can’t afford to pay the new tax increase, since she’s already at the edge of her budget?  Should we, as a community feel bad for her, even though she has a net worth that is the same as everyone else?  If she should get some sort of exemption or tax credit, isn’t that unfair to Sam Spade, who is in the same position, in terms of net worth and income, but doesn’t live in a nice $700,000 house?  Aren’t we then, as taxpayers, supporting Emily’s consumption of a nice house (one that’s bigger and nicer than Sam’s)?

 

Similarly, while both Jane and Dick have savings of $100,000 and $200,000, respectively, that they can dip into to pay the extra tax (remember, they’re barely covering their expenses with their income before the additional property tax), no one seems to be proposing that their property tax be reduced or rebated, right?  After all, “they can afford it!  They don’t have to take out a loan to pay the tax!”  Ah, but money is, still, fungible.  Because while they have savings, their net worth is exactly the same as Emily.  Leaving aside the friction of a new mortgage or HELOC, it’s the same thing whether you have either (1) a $500,000 mortgage on your house and $500,000 in an investment account, or (2) no mortgage and no investments.

 

The bottom line is that each of Jane, Dick, Sam and Emily have the same amount of net wealth, and are all barely living within their means.  But we’re asking some of them to pay more, or a lot more, just by virtue of the way their portfolio is allocated.

 

Look, we get it – nobody likes the idea of someone having to take out a home loan to pay additional property tax.  But let’s not kid ourselves – most people who own a house in Lincoln have a net worth well above the national average. 

 

And, yes, there are no doubt some or even many folks in town who are homeowners and have small or zero or even negative net worth; that’s not disputed.  Rather, for all of this discussion about “reducing the tax burden for the most vulnerable”, let’s make sure that we are indeed targeting THOSE folks with small or zero or even negative net worth – and not necessarily those with a large amount of equity in their home, rather than invested in, say, mutual funds.

 

3.  The concept of tax incidence.

 

Kathryn wrote:  >”If those are households a significant number of the lower income numbers are most likely renters correct?  Renters do not directly pay property taxes although their rent can obviously increase.”

 

I apologize in advance to everyone who is well aware of the concept of tax incidence.  I dive into this a bit here only because, to my surprise, some folks haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about what it really means.  So sorry if this is pedantic, but I’ll try to keep it simple, as it pertains to Kathryn’s point – and she’s right, rents will indeed increase….

 

Tax incidence is the concept of (simplified down to) “WHO really pays the tax?”  A classic example is the payroll tax.  Half of the payroll tax is “paid by the employer”, and half by the employee.  But is it, really?  After all, the employer is paying a total of $X to hire the employee.  That amount includes not only the salary, but also benefits, the payroll tax, and various other taxes and fees.  Put simply, $X is the total amount that the employer has to pay out in order to get another worker.  So if the payroll tax wasn’t assessed 50:50, and instead the employee was forced to pay “all of it”, does . . . $X change?  Probably not.  Because the employee would receive an amount from the employer equal to 50% of the payroll tax, and then the employee would write a bigger check to the government.

 

Now, if we were to dive deeper, we could spend some time talking about price inelasticity.  But for our purposes, the point remains – tax incidence means figuring out who ultimately pays the tax.  That’s why “corporate” taxes are so misleading.  Corporations don’t pay tax!  Oh, sure, they might cut the check, but, ultimately, it’s the shareholders – the mutual funds, pension funds, hedge funds, but ultimately, their investors too – that pay the tax.  Yes, there are all sorts of maneuvers companies can engage in to reduce the corporate tax owed, but the INCIDENCE of the corporate tax is ultimately on the shareholders.

 

So – what’s the tax incidence on renters?  Renters pay $Y per month for their housing.  That $Y might be just rent, but it might also include fees, electricity, heat, or other expenses.  Or, the landlord might offer to cover all expenses EXCEPT the rent.  But regardless, a renter will pay $Y per month – because the landlord needs to make up the electricity and oil expense from somewhere. 

 

Thus, if property taxes go up on rental housing, those additional property taxes are going to, ultimately, be levied upon the renters.  (Yes, due to the question of price elasticity, not all of it might land on the renters, if we get into the weeds, but over time, given comparable examples, the tax will ultimately be paid by the renters, or close to it.)

 

----------

Enough for now.

 

HTH,

 

--Dennis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From: Lincoln <[hidden email]> On Behalf Of Allen Vander Meulen III
Sent: Sunday, November 25, 2018 9:00 AM
To: <[hidden email]> <[hidden email]>
Subject: Re: [LincolnTalk] A tale of two (or three) Lincolns - how to bridge the gap, talk across the divide?

 

The Town approved a property tax rebate as part of the Housing Commission’s “Affordable Accessory Apartment” [“AAA"] initiative a couple of years ago.  The rebate requires approval by the State Legislature, which has proven to be difficult (and time-consuming) to get.  It is still pending, and at this point such approval is still uncertain.  

 

That being said, some towns in the State and elsewhere in the U.S. have successfully created what is in effect a progressive property tax scale - rather than the “flat” tax that most communities use.  This can be accomplished in several ways, one being to increase the nominal rate, coupled with rebates to various classes of property owners.  I think this is a worthy concept, and feasible.  But, given our experience with the AAA program’s rebate, it will almost certainly be a difficult, multi-year process, if it happens at all.  

 

...Happy to accept assistance from others who would like to pursue this too!

 

- Allen Vander Meulen

 

 

 

On Nov 25, 2018, at 6:25 AM, Andrew Payne <[hidden email]> wrote:

 


Bijoy Misra wrote:

 

Good question.  20% operate below 75k. The next 15% also could be vulnerable.

How do we create tax relief? 

 

Lincoln offers every tax relief program permitted by state law (as others have noted).  Moreover, we can only offer programs allowed by the state -- towns cannot invent their own tax policies.   

 

As of June 2018, the program participation is:

  • Veterans:  22
  • Blind (37A):  1
  • Elderly (41D): 5
  • Deferrals (41A): 6
  • Hardship (18A):  1

(Note:  there may be some double counting).  In addition, the workoff program (with no asset/income test) has 29 seniors and 4 veterans.  Also, there is a state income tax circuit breaker.  See details on page 13:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1KevG2b3XxWyZypK1t-aI5ouwHi65KV7nzKob0FuMLAw/edit#

 

How can we get more enrolled in these existing programs?  

 

For possible new programs, see the report from a town working group, recently posted here:  http://lincoln.2330058.n4.nabble.com/LincolnTalk-Senior-Means-Tested-Property-Tax-Reduction-Program-td16636.html

 

 

Can the project be phased such that the stress is less? 

 

Financial phasing is certainly possible and has been extensively discussed at various committee meetings.  But there's a critical tradeoff:  the more borrowing we defer (to phase in interest payments and tax bills), the more we are exposed to future interest rate movements.  

 

Small rate changes have a big impact, and it may not be the best idea to have that much riding on interest rates 1-2 years down the road.  Form your own opinion, of course, but the market consensus is that rates are certainly not going down anytime soon.

 

 

 Is that an option in the meeting?

 

I certainly expect phasing discussion at the meeting, but residents vote the authorization to borrow, not the borrowing details.  

 

The borrowing is done by the Town Treasurer, with BOS approval and advice from the town's finance team (town manager, finance director, finance committee).  The motion text is attached below.

 

One person's view,

 

-andy

 

 

 

TOWN OF LINCOLN

SPECIAL TOWN MEETING

DECEMBER 1, 2018

PROPOSED SCHOOL BUILDING PROJECT

 

MOTION under ARTICLE 1 School Committee

Moved: That the Town appropriate the amount of ninety-three million

nine hundred thousand dollars ($93,900,000), to be expended under the

direction of the Lincoln School Building Committee, for costs of designing,

renovating, rebuilding, equipping, and furnishing the Lincoln School located

on Ballfield Road, Lincoln, MA, including the payment of all costs incidental

or related thereto. To meet this appropriation: 1) the Treasurer is

authorized, with the approval of the Selectmen, to borrow $88,500,000

under the provisions of G.L. c.44B, G.L. c.44 and/or any other enabling

authority and to issue bonds or notes of the Town therefor; and further, that

any premium received by the Town upon the sale of any bonds or notes

approved by this vote, less any premium applied to the payment of the costs

of issuance of such bonds or notes, may be applied to the payment of costs

approved by this vote in accordance with G.L. c.44, §20, thereby reducing by

a like amount the amount authorized to be borrowed to pay such costs; 2)

the sum of $ 4,400,000 be transferred from the Stabilization Fund; and 3)

the sum of $1,000,000 be transferred from Free Cash; provided, however,

that the vote taken hereunder shall be expressly contingent upon approval

by the voters of a ballot question to exclude the amounts required in order

to pay for the bond and/or any notes issued for said building project

pursuant to the provisions of Proposition 2 ½, so called. Further, that the

School Committee is authorized: (i) to lease school property to be used by a

solar energy provider to erect, operate and maintain solar energy facilities;

(ii) to enter into renewable energy power purchase and/or net metering

credit or similar agreements, with such agreements to be for a term of up to

30 years and on such other terms as the School Committee deems in the

best interest of the Town; and (iii) to enter into payment in lieu of tax

agreements pursuant to G.L. c.59, §38H(b) in connection with such facilities;

and to take whatever additional action may be required to effectuate said

lease and solar agreements.

 

 

 

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Re: [LincolnTalk] Some thoughts on taxes / property tax

Andrew Payne

Bijoy wrote:

I do see lack of expertise in many volunteer operations, people are learning
on the job.  

My general experience is that a perceived "lack of experience" with town volunteers is often (not always) due to other factors:
  • "Drive-by" comments from those uninterested, unable, and/or unwilling to understand details, context, or constraints (there are many in the municipal world.  One example:  a meeting last year where we spent significant time discussing how the square footage of the footings for the parking lot solar canopy might trigger a small taxed bond offering for the school.  Details available on request).

  • An expectation or belief that ideas/programs/processes used in much larger towns and cities translate neatly and directly to our little town.  Every town is different, and Lincoln is very, very small.  (And if residents want to expand the town budget to accommodate things, please speak up!)

  • Outright disagreement.  We all believe different things, but that doesn't automatically mean the other side doesn't know what they're talking about.  Worse, I believe touted "expertise" has occasionally led us astray, esp. when subjective or political arguments are presented as objective fact.
We're all imperfect humans (I know I am, and there's LT archive evidence to prove it!), and there are certainly places where, in the perfect world, I hope/wish we had more expertise.  But my overwhelming experience in town has been working with competent, capable, well-meaning residents that give up time many evenings to try and make things a little bit better.

I hope this doesn't come across as defensive and/or as discouraging anyone from sharing or participating in a broader discussion.  LT is certainly rough-and-tumble at times, and challenges, questions, & critiques are an important part of that dialog.  

Keep those cards and letters coming, BUT, have you thanked a volunteer recently?

One very imperfect person's view,

-andy

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Re: [LincolnTalk] Some thoughts on taxes / property tax

Dennis Liu
In reply to this post by Bijoy Misra

You’re too kind, Bijoy.  BTW, I don’t study any of this stuff in college, nor is it really foundational to my work.  It’s just a question of curiosity and critical thinking.  No particular expertise is needed. 

 

As for volunteering in town, I would likely be tarred-and-feathered by the second meeting.  😊

 

Vty,

 

--Dennis

 

 

From: Bijoy Misra <[hidden email]>
Sent: Friday, October 4, 2019 7:51 AM
To: Dennis Liu <[hidden email]>
Cc: Lincoln Talk <[hidden email]>
Subject: Re: [LincolnTalk] Some thoughts on taxes / property tax

 

Dennis,

With your expertise in these matters you could be an asset to the Tax committee.

Though much can't possibly be done, your expertise can help people analyze well.

I do see lack of expertise in many volunteer operations, people are learning

on the job.  You could be different.

Best regards,

Bijoy

PS.  I am not a detailed man in tax matters.

 

On Fri, Oct 4, 2019 at 12:16 AM Dennis Liu <[hidden email]> wrote:

In the other email sent earlier this evening, I wrote: 

>I wrote a somewhat lengthy email to this list last November, in which I did a bit of a deep dive.  Using simple math to demonstrate that four people with the exact same net worth could end up living in homes of vastly different values – and end up paying vastly different sums of property tax.  Lots of folks don’t really think about this/realize this, but this fact certainly complicates the tax debate.

>The property tax we have today is a *proxy* for a progressive wealth on tax; it kinda sorta works, in that people with more wealth typically can afford more expensive housing, and thus can be taxed more.  But it isn’t perfect!  And because it’s not perfect, we may well have lots of situations where someone with a net worth of $3mm pays far less taxes than someone with a net worth of $500k.  Indeed, we may end up with a situation where that $500k net worth person ends up subsidizing the far wealthier person.

Someone requested that I forward this, so am sending it to the List at large; see #2 below.  <hit delete now if you’d like; math an economics below>

 

Vty,

 

--Dennis

 

From: Dennis Liu <[hidden email]>
Sent: Sunday, November 25, 2018 8:40 PM
To: '<[hidden email]>' <[hidden email]>
Subject: Some thoughts on taxes / property tax

 

Some food for thought on the nature of taxation in general, and property taxes in particular (and not really related to the school vote).

 

 

1.  Progressive vs regressive taxation schemes

 

Allen wrote:  >”That being said, some towns in the State and elsewhere in the U.S. have successfully created what is in effect a progressive property tax scale - rather than the “flat” tax that most communities use.  This can be accomplished in several ways, one being to increase the nominal rate, coupled with rebates to various classes of property owners.  I think this is a worthy concept, and feasible.”

 

I feel compelled to point out that property taxes are actually pretty progressive already.  One can argue that it should be more progressive, of course, but even a traditional definition of a “flat” tax implies that it’s progressive.  A flat income tax, simply put, is one that applies the same rate to all income, so that someone who earns $1.5mm pays 20%, or $300k, while someone who earns $80k pays 20%, or $16k.  Of course, most proposed implementations make that even more progressive by adding features like deductions and exemptions, but, generally, flat taxes are indeed progressive.

 

I’ll further cite what I wrote back in May, in response to something that Jean Palmer proposed:

 

==========

>For the avoidance of doubt then, Jean, the current system of using property tax revenue to fund public education is actually PROGRESSIVE.  Not perfectly, of course, but close enough, in that, generally speaking, wealthier people live in more expensive housing, which in turn incurs high property tax levies.

 

Thus, in Lincoln and in most communities, people with more expensive housing (assumed to be wealthier by definition, even if income will not correlate perfectly) end up paying MORE PER RESIDENT for education.

 

Jean, is this “more equitable” in your mind?  That the “wealthy” pay more for public education?  Or would you rather see a more regressive tax scheme, such that everyone pays the same amount?

 

As an aside, whether this is a “feature” or “bug” is another interesting topic for a separate discussion.  When the government provides a service to people, it’s almost always via progressive funding (since the vast majority of federal revenue is from income and capital gains taxes, and state and local income tax and property tax are also progressive).   If a private enterprise provides the same service and charges a fee to the recipient, that’s arguably regressive.  Broadly speaking then, shifting as much activity from the private sector to the government sector increases the “progressivity” of the service; whether that’s a desired goal or a horrible flaw depends, one supposes, on one’s POV.  

===========

 

 

2.  Everybody understands the concept of fungibility, right?  Keep that in mind while I go through the following hypothetical.

 

If Jane Smith owns a $900,000 house with a $300,000 mortgage, and has $100,000 in other investments and savings, she has a net worth of $700,000.  Dick Jones has a $2mm house with a $1.5mm mortgage, and savings of $200,000, he has a net worth of $700,000.  Sam Spade lives in a tiny condo worth $100,000 with a $50,000 mortgage but has an investment portfolio worth $650,000 – he has the same net worth of $700,000.  Finally, let’s consider Emily Brown with no savings and no investments, but owns outright a house worth $700,000, for a net worth of, yes, $700,000  (all of this is complicated by taxes and such, but put that aside and stay with me.) 

 

 

Let’s further assume that each of these people make the same annual income. 

 

If we’re raising property taxes, then we have a situation where Dick Jones ends up paying a lot more in property tax than the other three folks.  Even though he has the same net worth as the other three, and even though he makes the same money as the other three folks. 

 

Is this fair?  Some will say no; others will say, yes, because that’s the ad valorem tax system we’ve traditionally used to raise tax revenue in local governments, so someone who chooses to buy an expensive house has to pay more than others.  Remember, we do not assess an ad valorem tax on net worth – just real property.  Which provides a disincentive to buy a more expensive house, since you don’t have to pay an annual tax on the value of your savings account, or stock portfolio, or that Picasso in your living room.

 

So be it; that’s what we all signed up for, right?  Those are the rules of the game?  Don’t want to pay a lot in property taxes?  Buy a smaller or much smaller house, or find a cheaper town.

 

Well, consider this. 

 

Let’s change the hypothetical a bit.  Let’s say that each of our examples, each with a net worth of $700,000, live on a small pension and social security, and each are barely able to cover their monthly expenses.  When this tax increase passes, Emily ends up being forced to pay a lot more in property tax than, say, Sam.  Is that “fair”?  That’s the same tax system that she signed up for, right?  Same as Dick Jones and Jane Smith, both of whom pay yet more in property tax?

 

But what if Emily can’t afford to pay the new tax increase, since she’s already at the edge of her budget?  Should we, as a community feel bad for her, even though she has a net worth that is the same as everyone else?  If she should get some sort of exemption or tax credit, isn’t that unfair to Sam Spade, who is in the same position, in terms of net worth and income, but doesn’t live in a nice $700,000 house?  Aren’t we then, as taxpayers, supporting Emily’s consumption of a nice house (one that’s bigger and nicer than Sam’s)?

 

Similarly, while both Jane and Dick have savings of $100,000 and $200,000, respectively, that they can dip into to pay the extra tax (remember, they’re barely covering their expenses with their income before the additional property tax), no one seems to be proposing that their property tax be reduced or rebated, right?  After all, “they can afford it!  They don’t have to take out a loan to pay the tax!”  Ah, but money is, still, fungible.  Because while they have savings, their net worth is exactly the same as Emily.  Leaving aside the friction of a new mortgage or HELOC, it’s the same thing whether you have either (1) a $500,000 mortgage on your house and $500,000 in an investment account, or (2) no mortgage and no investments.

 

The bottom line is that each of Jane, Dick, Sam and Emily have the same amount of net wealth, and are all barely living within their means.  But we’re asking some of them to pay more, or a lot more, just by virtue of the way their portfolio is allocated.

 

Look, we get it – nobody likes the idea of someone having to take out a home loan to pay additional property tax.  But let’s not kid ourselves – most people who own a house in Lincoln have a net worth well above the national average. 

 

And, yes, there are no doubt some or even many folks in town who are homeowners and have small or zero or even negative net worth; that’s not disputed.  Rather, for all of this discussion about “reducing the tax burden for the most vulnerable”, let’s make sure that we are indeed targeting THOSE folks with small or zero or even negative net worth – and not necessarily those with a large amount of equity in their home, rather than invested in, say, mutual funds.

 

3.  The concept of tax incidence.

 

Kathryn wrote:  >”If those are households a significant number of the lower income numbers are most likely renters correct?  Renters do not directly pay property taxes although their rent can obviously increase.”

 

I apologize in advance to everyone who is well aware of the concept of tax incidence.  I dive into this a bit here only because, to my surprise, some folks haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about what it really means.  So sorry if this is pedantic, but I’ll try to keep it simple, as it pertains to Kathryn’s point – and she’s right, rents will indeed increase….

 

Tax incidence is the concept of (simplified down to) “WHO really pays the tax?”  A classic example is the payroll tax.  Half of the payroll tax is “paid by the employer”, and half by the employee.  But is it, really?  After all, the employer is paying a total of $X to hire the employee.  That amount includes not only the salary, but also benefits, the payroll tax, and various other taxes and fees.  Put simply, $X is the total amount that the employer has to pay out in order to get another worker.  So if the payroll tax wasn’t assessed 50:50, and instead the employee was forced to pay “all of it”, does . . . $X change?  Probably not.  Because the employee would receive an amount from the employer equal to 50% of the payroll tax, and then the employee would write a bigger check to the government.

 

Now, if we were to dive deeper, we could spend some time talking about price inelasticity.  But for our purposes, the point remains – tax incidence means figuring out who ultimately pays the tax.  That’s why “corporate” taxes are so misleading.  Corporations don’t pay tax!  Oh, sure, they might cut the check, but, ultimately, it’s the shareholders – the mutual funds, pension funds, hedge funds, but ultimately, their investors too – that pay the tax.  Yes, there are all sorts of maneuvers companies can engage in to reduce the corporate tax owed, but the INCIDENCE of the corporate tax is ultimately on the shareholders.

 

So – what’s the tax incidence on renters?  Renters pay $Y per month for their housing.  That $Y might be just rent, but it might also include fees, electricity, heat, or other expenses.  Or, the landlord might offer to cover all expenses EXCEPT the rent.  But regardless, a renter will pay $Y per month – because the landlord needs to make up the electricity and oil expense from somewhere. 

 

Thus, if property taxes go up on rental housing, those additional property taxes are going to, ultimately, be levied upon the renters.  (Yes, due to the question of price elasticity, not all of it might land on the renters, if we get into the weeds, but over time, given comparable examples, the tax will ultimately be paid by the renters, or close to it.)

 

----------

Enough for now.

 

HTH,

 

--Dennis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From: Lincoln <[hidden email]> On Behalf Of Allen Vander Meulen III
Sent: Sunday, November 25, 2018 9:00 AM
To: <[hidden email]> <[hidden email]>
Subject: Re: [LincolnTalk] A tale of two (or three) Lincolns - how to bridge the gap, talk across the divide?

 

The Town approved a property tax rebate as part of the Housing Commission’s “Affordable Accessory Apartment” [“AAA"] initiative a couple of years ago.  The rebate requires approval by the State Legislature, which has proven to be difficult (and time-consuming) to get.  It is still pending, and at this point such approval is still uncertain.  

 

That being said, some towns in the State and elsewhere in the U.S. have successfully created what is in effect a progressive property tax scale - rather than the “flat” tax that most communities use.  This can be accomplished in several ways, one being to increase the nominal rate, coupled with rebates to various classes of property owners.  I think this is a worthy concept, and feasible.  But, given our experience with the AAA program’s rebate, it will almost certainly be a difficult, multi-year process, if it happens at all.  

 

...Happy to accept assistance from others who would like to pursue this too!

 

- Allen Vander Meulen

 

 

 

On Nov 25, 2018, at 6:25 AM, Andrew Payne <[hidden email]> wrote:

 


Bijoy Misra wrote:

 

Good question.  20% operate below 75k. The next 15% also could be vulnerable.

How do we create tax relief? 

 

Lincoln offers every tax relief program permitted by state law (as others have noted).  Moreover, we can only offer programs allowed by the state -- towns cannot invent their own tax policies.   

 

As of June 2018, the program participation is:

  • Veterans:  22
  • Blind (37A):  1
  • Elderly (41D): 5
  • Deferrals (41A): 6
  • Hardship (18A):  1

(Note:  there may be some double counting).  In addition, the workoff program (with no asset/income test) has 29 seniors and 4 veterans.  Also, there is a state income tax circuit breaker.  See details on page 13:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1KevG2b3XxWyZypK1t-aI5ouwHi65KV7nzKob0FuMLAw/edit#

 

How can we get more enrolled in these existing programs?  

 

For possible new programs, see the report from a town working group, recently posted here:  http://lincoln.2330058.n4.nabble.com/LincolnTalk-Senior-Means-Tested-Property-Tax-Reduction-Program-td16636.html

 

 

Can the project be phased such that the stress is less? 

 

Financial phasing is certainly possible and has been extensively discussed at various committee meetings.  But there's a critical tradeoff:  the more borrowing we defer (to phase in interest payments and tax bills), the more we are exposed to future interest rate movements.  

 

Small rate changes have a big impact, and it may not be the best idea to have that much riding on interest rates 1-2 years down the road.  Form your own opinion, of course, but the market consensus is that rates are certainly not going down anytime soon.

 

 

 Is that an option in the meeting?

 

I certainly expect phasing discussion at the meeting, but residents vote the authorization to borrow, not the borrowing details.  

 

The borrowing is done by the Town Treasurer, with BOS approval and advice from the town's finance team (town manager, finance director, finance committee).  The motion text is attached below.

 

One person's view,

 

-andy

 

 

 

TOWN OF LINCOLN

SPECIAL TOWN MEETING

DECEMBER 1, 2018

PROPOSED SCHOOL BUILDING PROJECT

 

MOTION under ARTICLE 1 School Committee

Moved: That the Town appropriate the amount of ninety-three million

nine hundred thousand dollars ($93,900,000), to be expended under the

direction of the Lincoln School Building Committee, for costs of designing,

renovating, rebuilding, equipping, and furnishing the Lincoln School located

on Ballfield Road, Lincoln, MA, including the payment of all costs incidental

or related thereto. To meet this appropriation: 1) the Treasurer is

authorized, with the approval of the Selectmen, to borrow $88,500,000

under the provisions of G.L. c.44B, G.L. c.44 and/or any other enabling

authority and to issue bonds or notes of the Town therefor; and further, that

any premium received by the Town upon the sale of any bonds or notes

approved by this vote, less any premium applied to the payment of the costs

of issuance of such bonds or notes, may be applied to the payment of costs

approved by this vote in accordance with G.L. c.44, §20, thereby reducing by

a like amount the amount authorized to be borrowed to pay such costs; 2)

the sum of $ 4,400,000 be transferred from the Stabilization Fund; and 3)

the sum of $1,000,000 be transferred from Free Cash; provided, however,

that the vote taken hereunder shall be expressly contingent upon approval

by the voters of a ballot question to exclude the amounts required in order

to pay for the bond and/or any notes issued for said building project

pursuant to the provisions of Proposition 2 ½, so called. Further, that the

School Committee is authorized: (i) to lease school property to be used by a

solar energy provider to erect, operate and maintain solar energy facilities;

(ii) to enter into renewable energy power purchase and/or net metering

credit or similar agreements, with such agreements to be for a term of up to

30 years and on such other terms as the School Committee deems in the

best interest of the Town; and (iii) to enter into payment in lieu of tax

agreements pursuant to G.L. c.59, §38H(b) in connection with such facilities;

and to take whatever additional action may be required to effectuate said

lease and solar agreements.

 

 

 

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