Who should pay when the state* makes mistakes? If you or I make a mistake we will pay through the nose—especially if our mistake is seen as one which costs the state money—but when state actions cause individuals to lose money, it’s a different story entirely.
Take the situation unfolding in Elmore County, Idaho, where the assessor is blaming past ‘mistakes’ for a massive surge in the assessed value of agricultural land. The County Assessor’s office is claiming that decades of mistakes are the reason for the abrupt corrective action, but the impact on farmers and other property owners is slated to occur in just one or two years.
Why does a state error decades in the making have to be rectified in short order and at great expense to individuals?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of property taxes at all. I believe that property taxes make true ownership impossible because you are always at risk of having your property seized by the state if you fail to pay them sufficient protection money rent. Laying that moral objection aside for a moment though, how much worse is it for the state to—after decades of negligence—suddenly decide that property owners need to pay for the state’s mistakes?
Anyone who has ever purchased (or even considered purchasing) a house or business knows that you look at the past property taxes when calculating what you can afford to buy and maintain. Agricultural endeavors, in particular, often operate on very narrow profit margins which can be wiped away by an abrupt and substantial increase in taxes.
It is unconscionable for the state to come in and triple or quadruple someone’s taxes in the span of one to two years. It is even more unconscionable to attempt to use the state’s own failings as justification for such abhorrent actions.
Samuel Adams—who believed a small tax on tea was egregious enough to warrant dumping a shipload of it into Boston Harbor—once asked, “what liberty can there be where property is taken away without consent?”
The residents of Elmore County need to ask some similar questions.
* When I use the term “the state,” I am referring generically to government; I am not necessarily referring to the state of Idaho.