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The Permanent Tax Revolt: How the Property Tax Transformed American Politics

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Tax cuts are such a pervasive feature of the American political landscape that the political establishment rarely questions them. Since 2001, Congress has abolished the tax on inherited wealth and passed a major income tax cut every year, including two of the three largest income tax cuts in American history despite a long drawn-out war and massive budget deficits. The Per Tax cuts are such a pervasive feature of the American political landscape that the political establishment rarely questions them. Since 2001, Congress has abolished the tax on inherited wealth and passed a major income tax cut every year, including two of the three largest income tax cuts in American history despite a long drawn-out war and massive budget deficits. The Permanent Tax Revolt traces the origins of this anti-tax campaign to the 1970s, in particular, to the influence of grassroots tax rebellions as homeowners across the United States rallied to protest their local property taxes. Isaac William Martin advances the provocative new argument that the property tax revolt was not a conservative backlash against big government, but instead a defensive movement for government protection from the market. The tax privilege that the tax rebels were defending was in fact one of the largest government social programs in the postwar era. While the movement to defend homeowners' tax breaks drew much of its inspiration—and many of its early leaders—from the progressive movement for welfare rights, politicians on both sides of the aisle quickly learned that supporting big tax cuts was good politics. In time, American political institutions and the strategic choices made by the protesters ultimately channeled the movement toward the kind of tax relief favored by the political right, with dramatic consequences for American politics today.


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Tax cuts are such a pervasive feature of the American political landscape that the political establishment rarely questions them. Since 2001, Congress has abolished the tax on inherited wealth and passed a major income tax cut every year, including two of the three largest income tax cuts in American history despite a long drawn-out war and massive budget deficits. The Per Tax cuts are such a pervasive feature of the American political landscape that the political establishment rarely questions them. Since 2001, Congress has abolished the tax on inherited wealth and passed a major income tax cut every year, including two of the three largest income tax cuts in American history despite a long drawn-out war and massive budget deficits. The Permanent Tax Revolt traces the origins of this anti-tax campaign to the 1970s, in particular, to the influence of grassroots tax rebellions as homeowners across the United States rallied to protest their local property taxes. Isaac William Martin advances the provocative new argument that the property tax revolt was not a conservative backlash against big government, but instead a defensive movement for government protection from the market. The tax privilege that the tax rebels were defending was in fact one of the largest government social programs in the postwar era. While the movement to defend homeowners' tax breaks drew much of its inspiration—and many of its early leaders—from the progressive movement for welfare rights, politicians on both sides of the aisle quickly learned that supporting big tax cuts was good politics. In time, American political institutions and the strategic choices made by the protesters ultimately channeled the movement toward the kind of tax relief favored by the political right, with dramatic consequences for American politics today.

37 review for The Permanent Tax Revolt: How the Property Tax Transformed American Politics

  1. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    Although this book is filled with indefensible arguments, it does explain an important part of the "Property Tax Revolt" of the 1970s, and especially the precursors and aftereffects of California's Prop 13 from 1978. Basically, it argues that the attempt to modernize property tax assessments in that era, and make assessments centralized, standardized, and professionalized, took away many of the "tax privileges" of homeowners and led them to despise the property tax, which only later translated i Although this book is filled with indefensible arguments, it does explain an important part of the "Property Tax Revolt" of the 1970s, and especially the precursors and aftereffects of California's Prop 13 from 1978. Basically, it argues that the attempt to modernize property tax assessments in that era, and make assessments centralized, standardized, and professionalized, took away many of the "tax privileges" of homeowners and led them to despise the property tax, which only later translated into anger at taxes in general. In California, it was a scandal in San Francisco Assessor Russell Worden's office, who was accused of taking bribes to re-assess commercial property, that led Nicholas Petris to pass AB 80 and standardize all assessments at 25% of value, which itself led to LA Assessor and modernizer Philip Watson to campaign across the state for a strict tax limitation. In Massachusetts, the 1974 "Sudbury" decision required uniform assessments, and in New York a slightly later "Hellerstein" decision did the same thing. Everywhere these uniform assessments were followed by sign-wielding protesters, tax strikes, burned tax notices, and general outrage, as some assessments jumped by more than double in a single year. The more tendentious and less defensible part of this book argues that property tax privileges were somehow protections against the market, similar to social security, since the non-privileged assessments were geared to market prices. But this is like claiming that federal income taxes are a "market force" since they are determined by market incomes. Still, the book shows that the property tax revolt was not only on the right in its early years. George Wiley, the Berkley chemist who led the National Welfare Rights Organization, left to become head of the property tax revolt with his Movement for Economic Justice. Saul Alinsky's Citizens Action Program (CAP) in Chicago organized for property tax relief against the modernization that followed Cook County "Parky" Cullteron's bribery scandal in 1973, and in many places the former Students for Democratic Society or Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee groups organized for limitations on property taxes against the poorest ("circuit breakers").. They generally wanted circuit breakers or "classification" changes, to cap taxes for the old or poor, or to shift property tax burdens to businesses, but they agreed the property tax was inequitable. It was only after Prop. 13 and its straight tax limitation that states shifted from these to strategies (pre-1978 circuit breakers passed in over 20 states, while tax limitations in just 6) to the more straight limitations (which after 1978 passed in 19 states up to 1990, while circuit breakers only passed in 3 more). Modernization was indeed the "villain" that sparked the revolt, and all that came after it. This is an important look at an under-appreciated topic. It should reshape how many people think about property-taxes, and the property tax revolt. Although one need to buy all of its arguments, on the whole it is convincing.a

  2. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Terrazas

    Not quite what I expected -- I was hoping for something more in the weeds, but some good detail.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Keith

    The book tackles two questions: (1) Why was there a tax revolt against property taxes in the latter half of the 20th Century in the US and Britain?, and (2) Why did the tax revolt "turn right" and continue as an ongoing talking point in America? Professor Martin's structure in addressing those questions could be quite a bit better. He jumps between those two questions until he feels like he has fully resolve the second one and can then focus on the first. A quick paraphrase of his answers are: (1) The book tackles two questions: (1) Why was there a tax revolt against property taxes in the latter half of the 20th Century in the US and Britain?, and (2) Why did the tax revolt "turn right" and continue as an ongoing talking point in America? Professor Martin's structure in addressing those questions could be quite a bit better. He jumps between those two questions until he feels like he has fully resolve the second one and can then focus on the first. A quick paraphrase of his answers are: (1) The tax revolts were caused by the peacetime elimination of informal tax subsidies that sheltered taxpayers from market conditions. Important qualifications and nuance can be found in the book. (2) Several partial answers were proposed. The one that sticks with me is that the most public tax reforms of the ~1970s were very politically conservative and required continual checks with voters for increases in taxation. The reforms carried the seeds of future fights by forcing a continual debate about taxes.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Oliver Bateman

    A skillfully rendered short account of the American property tax revolt of the 70s that turned tax cutting (as opposed to budget balancing) into the third rail of modern Republican politics. Martin uses quantitative and comparative evidence to demonstrate how attempts to modernize tax assessments by eliminating informal tax privileges can cause widespread social discord. A compelling read, even if some of the author's conclusions seem a bit too neat. A skillfully rendered short account of the American property tax revolt of the 70s that turned tax cutting (as opposed to budget balancing) into the third rail of modern Republican politics. Martin uses quantitative and comparative evidence to demonstrate how attempts to modernize tax assessments by eliminating informal tax privileges can cause widespread social discord. A compelling read, even if some of the author's conclusions seem a bit too neat.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Gloria

    I'm going to plunge back into this and slog through it from time to time when I not reading something fictional that's easier...I think it's important to understand how California and the country got so politically messed up over the issue of taxes, because as the child of old-school liberals, I just don't get it. I'm going to plunge back into this and slog through it from time to time when I not reading something fictional that's easier...I think it's important to understand how California and the country got so politically messed up over the issue of taxes, because as the child of old-school liberals, I just don't get it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Crunkleton-Clark

  7. 4 out of 5

    Geoff McKim

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    Edward Gallagher

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    Aaron

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    Parke Troutman

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    James Van

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    Kevin

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    Donald Brownlee

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    Angus

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    Angrywoodchuck

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    Maryanne Salm

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    Steve Shulman-Laniel

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    Lemann Boris

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    Brakeyshia R. Samms

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    Mark Paul

  36. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Shestakov

  37. 5 out of 5

    Garrett Strain

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