Argument: cities could find more revenue by taxing people who commute in

Michael Pagano details the tax revenue issues facing American big cities and proposes a solution: tax commuters for the city services they use.

Over the past several decades, municipal tax systems have changed in many ways to try and capture the revenues needed to support essential services. But most cities continue to base their tax systems on dated notions of how local economies work and what drives income growth and wealth. Cities must be given the ability to develop tax and revenue systems that match the unique characteristics of their local economies, and that allow them to diversify revenues in ways that protect them from fiscal crises.How might that request be accommodated? Tax structures should be created that link cities to their underlying engines of growth or to income and wealth, similar in design to what the property tax attempted to accomplish two centuries ago. In Ohio for example, cities tax earnings at the place of employment and the place of residence. By taxing at the place of employment, users of city services (that is, employees who physically work at a site) contribute to the resource base for service provision.

Imagine if users of city-government services actually were required to pay for the full cost of those services? Imagine household decisions on where to live that is based on their paying the full cost of services. Imagine the decision calculus by individuals who would be responsible for paying their fair share. It could be revolutionary.

I wonder if changing the tax structure in this way would only serve to push more organizations and firms to the suburbs. Take the example of Chicago cited by Pagano. In the last few years, several companies, like Motorola, have announced they are moving workers back into the city. Would changing the tax structure make them reconsider?

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