Land Value Tax in The United States - Legality - Uniformity Clauses

Uniformity Clauses

The United States legal system includes "uniformity clauses" found in individual State Constitutions as well as the federal Constitution. Broadly speaking, these clauses require taxation to be applied evenly or uniformly within a jurisdiction. However, the exact wording and meaning of these clauses differs from constitution to constitution. Although the federal Uniformity Clause has never been an issue, the wording and interpretation of many state constitutions has created issues peculiar to each state. For example in 1898, the Maryland Court of Appeals (the highest state appellate court) ruled that the use of land value taxation in Hyattsville was unconstitutional. Shortly thereafter, an amendment to the Maryland Declaration of Rights specifically allowed for land value taxation where authorized by the State Legislature. However, the uniformity clause in Pennsylvania has been broadly construed, and land value taxation has been used since 1913.

Each state will have its own legal stance or lack of any stance on LVT; some uniformity clauses explicitly allow some types of classifications of property, some have no uniformity clause, and some do not specifically discuss land qua land at all. Except for the pre-1900 Maryland case of Hyattsville (later overturned by state constitutional amendment and statutory provisions), no state courts have actually struck down an attempt to implement land value taxation on the basis of a state uniformity clause. Nor have any courts even squarely ruled that land and improvements are actually "classes" of property such that uniformity clauses are applicable. Consequently, as a general rule, as long as each type of property (land, improvements, personal) is taxed uniformly there is no constitutional obstacle.

Even in rather strict uniformity clause states, it is unclear whether the uniformity clause actually prohibits separate land value taxation. Some states have other constitutional provisions - for example in New Jersey, which gives localities maximum home rule authority, and have not adopted Dillon's Rule. While the uniformity clauses might be interpreted to prohibit state-wide action, local action may be legitimate.

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Famous quotes containing the word uniformity:

    The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government.
    James Madison (1751–1836)