Liberals love them some Bill DeBlasio these days, and I’m no exception. I’d love to write about this election more if this weren’t a site about Pennsylvania statewide politics, so let’s try to tie the DeBlasio news I wanted to comment on back to Pennsylvania.
Attention Bill Peduto and whoever the hell is running for Philadelphia Mayor in 2015: why not copy this DeBlasio land tax idea? Bill DeBlasio wants to tax vacant land at higher rates than residential buildings, specifically NYC’s Class 4 commercial property tax rate:
What changes, if any, do you think need to be made to the property taxes paid by homeowners, developers and landlords in New York City?
De Blasio: I have called for a change to the tax treatment for vacant land — from the lower residential rate to the higher rate for commercial property — to discourage long-term speculation that leaves lots vacant in our neighborhoods, and to encourage the construction of more affordable places to live.
PA has a pesky uniformity clause that’s been misinterpreted as requiring equal tax treatment of commercial and residential properties, and prohibiting a progressive rate structure for the state income tax. But there’s nothing stopping you from passing a tax specifically on vacant land or vacant properties. Pittsburgh’s 40% parking tax has a similar effect by raising the overhead cost of using land for surface parking – a policy Philadelphia could certainly stand to copy to nuke surface lot blight in Center City. But why not go after all vacant land?
Philly Council President Darrell Clarke proposed a vacant property tax that was looking great until we learned surface parking lots and other vacant land wouldn’t count as vacant. But they totally should. As Bill DeBlasio says, speculation is a cost to affordability. Everybody who currently owns a surface parking lot in Center City that is allowed to have a skyscraper on it is cheating Philadelphians out of badly needed revenue.