Pitch Whacks Earnings Tax Flat in Its Tracks; Backs Tax on Plats, in Fact
Justin’s excellent post earlier today touching on the distortionary effects of the earnings tax was particularly timely. Also today, The Pitch published a piece that mentions our 2007 study about this very issue, "How to Replace the Earnings Tax in Kansas City," written by University of Missouri?Columbia economics professor Joseph Haslag (also now serving as the Show-Me Institute’s executive vice president). Haslag wrote a companion piece that makes the same case for the other side of the state, "How to Replace the Earnings Tax in Saint Louis."
The Pitch‘s piece isn’t uniformly great; for instance, the author, David Martin, mentions at one point that despite some misgivings, "relics such as the old Greyhound station make me thankful that the TIF Commission and other inscrutable quasi-government agencies have the power of eminent domain." But Martin picks up on something that many other people omit when they discuss eliminating the earnings tax the Show-Me Institute’s suggestion that lost earnings tax revenues could be replaced with a much less distortionary land tax:
[T]he Show-Me Institute released a study on January 25, 2007, urging Kansas City to phase out the 1 percent tax on income and put in its place a tax on land. The author, Joseph Haslag, an economics professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, calls the land tax a "slam dunk" in terms of promoting growth. […]
The beauty of the land tax is that it essentially makes available to everyone the tax abatements that big-shot developers are always getting at City Hall. It would also save the city from having to go to court to pry valuable real estate from the bony fingers of people like Barber. When the land tax works as intended, speculators are forced to develop their holdings or sell them to somebody who will.
This is indeed one of the advantages of levying taxes on land value. Owners of land would have more of an incentive to either use their land in productive ways, so that they can recoup the value of the taxes the must pay, or avoid paying the tax at all by selling the land to somebody else who believes they can use it profitably. Although Henry George is most famous for promoting this idea, one of the earliest free-market economists, Adam Smith, also observed the value of a land tax as an alternative to other potential forms of taxation.
Of course, a more optimal outcome would be for government officials simply to find ways to cut unnecessary programs and spend much less of the taxpayers’ money. But nobody’s holding their breath for that to happen.