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Tax cuts could create more scary ghost towns across the United States

Happy Halloween!

My suburban community tonight will resemble many across America tonight: costumed kids, some a little older than they really should be (you know who you are neighbors!), taking to the streets to collect candy.

It's already been a good Halloween. I bought candy on Saturday and still haven't eaten one mini bar!

It's a good thing I haven't reduced the stash, since our across the street neighbor didn't put up his usual, out of control light display. In the past, kids gravitated to his house, bypassing all of us in his immediate vicinity.

Without that distraction, the hubby and I will likely run out of candy tonight before we run out of trick-or-treaters. Do you think they'd like Cheerios in a snack baggie?

But I'm not complaining, even if the late-arriving ghouls and monsters might. Our neighborhood is friendly, generally well-kept (accounting for divergent homeowner tastes) and we get pretty good services from Travis County and the city of Austin.

Paying for a community: We should. We pay a pretty penny in property taxes for them. And we'll go to the polls next week to vote on more bond issues to spend more of our tax money.

I suspect most of the ballot questions will pass, despite the goofy Halloween themed robocalls today. Our area tends to OK spending for what the majority see as quality of life improvements.

Shafter big bend ghost townSome jurisdictions, however, don't agree with our tax approval policy. And they run the risk of effectively ending up as ghost towns.

Yes, in these tough times, every resident and local government official must carefully evaluate spending.

And yes, homeowners tend to hate property taxes more than other levies.

But you've got to have income, and for cities and counties that's taxes, if you want to keep up or upgrade your neighborhood.

N.D. proposes end to property taxes: North Dakota residents, however, want to give it go without property taxes. A constitutional amendment will be on the ballot in June 2012 to eliminate North Dakotans' real estate taxes.

If the voters say so, the Peace Garden State could become the first state in the nation to abolish real estate taxes. Or, as once local N.D. lawmaker described it, the no-tax decision would be "the most profound policy change since statehood."

As is the case in most anti-tax efforts, the North Dakota vote was spearheaded by a grassroots effort. Empower the Taxpayer initiated the property tax repeal plan after finding that North Dakota's general fund spending has doubled from $2 billion to $4 billion since 2005.

That is a big increase, but dealing with it by ending a major funding mechanism seems to some to be ill-advised. I call it stupid. OK, maybe ill-advised is a better word. No, I'm sticking with stupid. (Thank you in advance for keeping your comments family friendly so that they can be posted.)

I have the same question as N.D. State Senator Dave Oehlke:

"No property taxes? That sounds great. The problem is, where do you get money for the fire department, police department, to fix the streets, for the schools for their buildings and teachers' salaries? When the folks promoting this resolution talk to us, the answer is, 'You can get the money from another source of revenue,' but they don't know what that source is."

Empower the Taxpayer offers some suggestions in its website's FAQ. And at the end of that page, the group notes that the measure will not end special assessments:

"What is prohibited is the use of property taxes to fund general revenues/spending," says the group's website. "Special assessments are impositions on specific properties for a specific purpose. The imposition of the special assessment is voted on by those who will be benefiting from the assessment."

So property taxes will go away but they won't?

That question no doubt will be one of the many raised during the eight months until the property tax vote. In this time, expect the tax/no-tax battle to intensify.

I also hope that North Dakotans' take the time to look at other jurisdictions that have slashed tax revenue systems. The results have not always been pretty or, once actually transformed from theory to reality, popular.

A lot of people answer the question of what they would give up in exchange for lower taxes by simply moving somewhere else that offers them a lifestyle they can enjoy. And yes, it's a new community that they pay for with taxes.

Photo of Shafter, Texas, ghost town by me
taken during our Big Bend 2007 vacation.

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NJ cpa

Great discussion and very timely for haloween haha.

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