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Improving the Performance of the Property Tax in Latin America (Policy Focus Reports)

Improving the Performance of the Property Tax in Latin America (Policy Focus Reports)

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The challenges of establishing a successful and sustainable property tax in Latin American countries are numerous and varied, yet many jurisdictions are implementing viable reforms. Public officials responsible for its administration often face intense political pressure because the property tax is universal and highly visible. Public dissatisfaction arises because the property tax requires payment independent of a property transaction. Moreover, equitable property tax assessment depends on a variety of factors, including operational efficiency, technical expertise, available data, administrative capacity, and political will.Certain conditions in Latin America compound these difficulties. Large disparities in income and wealth complicate the setting of equitable property tax rates, and as a result some municipalities are under-resourced to support efficient property tax collection. Limited access to data on property sales prices hampers accurate valuations, as does the great diversity in land tenure and occupation patterns in the region. An added difficulty is the distrust of public authorities by many taxpayers in view of weak governance and corruption.Widespread informal land occupation also complicates matters. Excluding informal properties limits the universality of the tax and its ability to generate revenue, but including such properties requires significant efforts to update cadastral records (a comprehensive register of real property location, ownership and value). How residents of informal areas perceive the tax is another concern.Reports on property tax revenues in Latin America are not consistent, the quality of the data is less than satisfactory, and collections vary greatly across jurisdictions and countries. The available evidence indicates that the property tax is of limited importance as a source of revenue to support local expenditures. As a result, it is easy to understand why using fees and charges instead of reforming the property tax might be less influenced by political factors, easier to administer, more efficient, and more capable of generating revenue.Nevertheless, property taxation remains the best way to support local public expenditures for several reasons, including its familiarity to taxpayers, its progressivity relative to taxes on consumption, and the difficulty of tax avoidance. Indeed, a growing number of municipalities demonstrate the feasibility of operating efficient property tax systems. Based on their experiences, this report presents a comprehensive framework that could help overcome many of the traditional roadblocks to successful property taxation in Latin America. Recommended reforms focus on three areas: Fiscal policy, Tax policies, Assessment practices and collection procedures.