Sustainability Science

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 289–301 | Cite as

Reforming local public finance to reduce resource consumption: the sustainability case for graduated property taxation

  • Maurie J. CohenEmail author
Original Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Sustainable Urban/Rural Planning and Architectural Design Innovation


The customary mode of flat rate-property taxation used in the United States and many other Anglospheric countries encourages the consumption of ever greater volumes of energy and materials by relatively affluent households and exacerbates social inequalities. Transition from an invariable tax rate on residential real estate to a graduated schedule could enhance local sustainability by ameliorating the trend toward larger houses and associated increases in resource appropriation. This form of progressive property taxation was most notably implemented in New Zealand during the latter years of the nineteenth century, and has periodically attracted attention as a way to discourage the amassing of large landholdings in rural areas and to maintain housing affordability in cities. This paper considers the design and implementation challenges of a graduated property tax which, by dampening demand for outsized dwellings, could be a useful part of a comprehensive package of climate-change policies for local governments.


Home size Public finance Fiscal policy Housing Sustainable consumption Absolute reductions Sufficiency 


  1. Acuto M (2013) City leadership in global governance. Glob Gov 19(3):481–498Google Scholar
  2. Agarwal S (2016) The best and worst cities for property taxes in 2016. Forbes. Accessed 15 June
  3. Alfredsson E, Bengtsson M, Brown H, Isenhour C, Lorek S, Stevis D, Vergragt P (2018) Why achieving the Paris Agreement requires reduced overall consumption and production. Sustain Sci Pract Policy 14(1):1–5Google Scholar
  4. Anonymous (1830) A letter to the earl of Wilton, on the commutation of existing taxes for a graduated property and income tax. George Smith, LiverpoolGoogle Scholar
  5. Badger E (2011) The missing link of climate change: single-family suburban homes. Citylab. Accessed 7 Dec
  6. Ball D (2015) Joseph Stiglitz on Canada’s housing inequality. The Tyee. Accessed 23 Nov
  7. Barber B (2013) If mayors ruled the world: dysfunctional nations, rising cities. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  8. Barber B (2017) Cool cities: urban sovereignty and the fix for global warming. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  9. Barkawi A, Heller P (2013) Property taxes and sustainability. Council on Economic Policies, Zurich. Accessed 7 June 2018
  10. Bartlett B (2013) The sacrosanct mortgage interest deduction. The New York Times. Accessed 6 Aug
  11. Bellow H (2015) Graduated property tax concept grilled at public hearing; Finance Committee votes to retain flat rate. The Berkshire Edge. Accessed 22 Aug
  12. Bond S, Bardiner B, Tyler P (2013) The impact of enterprise zone tax incentives on local property markets in England: who actually benefits? J Prop Res 30(1):67–85Google Scholar
  13. Boswell M, Greve A, Seale T (2011) Local climate action planning. Island Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  14. Brueckner J, Saavedra L (2001) Do local governments engage in strategic property-tax competition? Natl Tax J 54(2):203–229Google Scholar
  15. Buckingham J (1831) Outlines of a new budget for raising eighty millions by means of a justly graduated property tax. Effingham Wilson, LondonGoogle Scholar
  16. Bulkeley H (2006) A changing climate for spatial planning. Plan Theory Pract 7(2):203–214Google Scholar
  17. Capps K (2017) Here’s a way to make homes 10% more affordable. Citylab. Accessed 2 June
  18. Chapple K (2016) Integrating California’s climate change and fiscal goals: the known, the unknown, and the possible. Sacramento: University of California Center.
  19. C40 Cities (2018) Consumption-based GHG emissions of C40 Cities. London: C40 Cities (
  20. Clune S, Morrissey J, Moore T (2012) Size matters: house size and thermal efficiency as policy strategies to reduce net emissions of new developments. Energy Policy 48:657–667Google Scholar
  21. Cohen L (2003) A consumers’ republic: the politics of mass consumption in postwar America. Vintage, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  22. Cohen M (2011) Is the UK preparing for “war”? Military metaphors, personal carbon allowances, and consumption rationing in historical perspective. Clim Chang 104:109–222Google Scholar
  23. Cohen M (2017) The future of consumer society: prospects for sustainability in the new economy. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  24. Cohen M, Brown H, Vergragt P (eds) (2013) Innovations in sustainable consumption: new economics, socio-technical transitions, and social practices. Edward Elgar, NorthamptonGoogle Scholar
  25. Coventry G (1833) Graduated scale for a property tax. Dean and Munday, LondonGoogle Scholar
  26. Crouch C (2011) The Strange non-death of neo-liberalism. Polity, MaldenGoogle Scholar
  27. Davidson N (2009) Property and relative status. Mich Law Rev 107(5):757–817Google Scholar
  28. De Camillis C, Goralczyk M (2013) Towards stronger measures for sustainable consumption and production policies: proposal for a new fiscal framework based on a life cycle approach. Int J Life Cycle Assess 18(1):263–272Google Scholar
  29. de Leeuw E, Simos J (eds) (2017) Healthy cities: the theory, policy, and practice of value-based urban planning. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  30. Di Giulio A, Fuchs D (2014) Sustainable consumption corridors: concepts, objections, and responses. GAIA 23(S1):184–192Google Scholar
  31. Dowling R, Power E (2011) Beyond McMansions and green homes: thinking household sustainability through materialities of homeyness. In: Gorman-Murray A, Lane R (eds) Material geographies and household sustainability. Routledge, New York, pp 75–88Google Scholar
  32. Farkas Z (2009) Hungarian bubbles. Eurozine. Accessed 18 June
  33. Fischel W, W. Oates, J. Youngman (2011) Are local property taxes regressive, progressive, or what? Unpublished paper
  34. Fisher G (1996) The worst tax? A history of the property tax in America. University Press of Kansas, LawrenceGoogle Scholar
  35. Garasky S, Haurin D (1997) Tiebout revised: redrawing jurisdictional boundaries. J Urb Econ 42(3):366–376Google Scholar
  36. Geppert D (2003) The postwar challenge: cultural, social, and political change in western Europe, 1945–1958. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  37. Giro B, de Haan P (2010) More or better? A model of changes in household greenhouse gas emissions due to higher income. J Ind Ecol 14(1):31–49Google Scholar
  38. Goldstein A, N Fligstein, O Hastings. (2015) Keeping up with the Jonses: lifestyle competition and housing consumption in the era of the housing price bubble, 1999–2007. Berkeley, CA: University of California Berkeley, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (
  39. Gram-Hanssen K (2015) Housing in a sustainable consumption perspective. In: Reisch L, Thøgersen J (eds) Handbook of research on sustainable consumption. Edward Elgar, Northampton, pp 178–191Google Scholar
  40. Grassmueck G (2011) What drives intra-county migration? The impact of local fiscal factors on Tiebout sorting. Rev Reg Stud 41(2–3):119–138Google Scholar
  41. Graute U (2016) Local authorities acting globally for sustainable development. Reg Stud 50(11):1931–1942Google Scholar
  42. Greasley D, Oxley L (2009) The pastoral boom, the rural land market, and long swings in New Zealand economic growth, 1873–1939. Econ Hist Rev 62(2):324–349Google Scholar
  43. Hale D (1985) The evolution of the property tax: a study of the relation between public finance and political theory. J Politics 47(2):382–404Google Scholar
  44. Hanson A (2013) Limiting the mortgage interest deduction by size of home: effects on the user cost and price of housing across metropolitan areas. J Hous Res 23(1):1–20Google Scholar
  45. Hanson A, Brannon I, Hawley Z (2014) Rethinking tax benefits for home ownership. Natl Aff 32(Summer):40–54Google Scholar
  46. Harlan S, Yabiku S, Larsen L, Brazel A (2009) Household water consumption in an arid city: affluence, affordance, and attitudes. Soc Nat Res 22(8):691–709Google Scholar
  47. Heiskanen E, Mont O, Power K (2014) A map is not a territory: making research more helpful for sustainable consumption policy. J Consum Policy 37(1):27–44Google Scholar
  48. Helperin S (2004) War and social change in modern Europe: the great transformation revisited. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  49. Heyer G, Holden E (2001) Housing as a basis for sustainable consumption. Int J Sustain Dev 4(1):48–58Google Scholar
  50. Hodge T, Komarek T (2016) Capitalizing on neighborhood enterprise zones: are Detroit residents paying for the NEZ homestead exemption? Reg Sci Urb Econ 61:18–25Google Scholar
  51. Hsu A, Weinfurter A, Xu K (2017) Aligning subnational climate actions for the new post-Paris climate regime. Clim Chang 142(3–4):419–432Google Scholar
  52. Ihlanfeldt K, Jackson J (1982) Systematic error adjustment and interjurisdiction property tax capitalization. South Econ J 49:417–427Google Scholar
  53. Isaksen E, Narbel P (2017) A carbon footprint proportional to expenditure: a case for Norway? Ecol Econ 131:152–165Google Scholar
  54. Jackson K (1985) Crabgrass frontier: the suburbanization of the United States. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  55. Jin D, Hoagland P, Au D, Qiu J (2015) Shoreline change, seawalls, and coastal property values. Ocean Coast Manag 114:185–193Google Scholar
  56. Keightley M (2014) The mortgage interest and property tax deductions: analysis and options. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service (
  57. Kilbourne W (2004) Sustainable communication and the dominant social paradigm: can they be integrated? Mark Theory 4(3):187–208Google Scholar
  58. Lieber R (2016) You’re buying a home. Have you considered climate change? The New York Times. Accessed 2 Dec
  59. Martin I (2008) The permanent tax revolt: how the property tax transformed American politics. Stanford University Press, Palo AltoGoogle Scholar
  60. McDonald J (1952) New Zealand land legislation. Historical Studies: Australia and New Zealand 5(19):195–211Google Scholar
  61. McNamara D, Gopalakrishnan S, Smith M, Murray A (2015) Climate adaptation and policy-induced inflation of coastal property value. PLoS One 10(3):e0121278Google Scholar
  62. Megbolugbe I, Linnemann P (1993) Home ownership. Urb Stud 30(4–5):659–682Google Scholar
  63. Meyer A (2004) Briefing: contraction and convergence. Proc Inst Civil Eng Eng Sustain 157(4):189–192Google Scholar
  64. Miller B (2012) Competing visions of the American single-family home: defining McMansions in the New York Times and Dallas Morning News, 2000–2009. J Urb Hist 38(6):1094–1113Google Scholar
  65. Miller K (2014) Building better communities: A fair funding toolkit for Canada’s cities and towns. Ottawa: Canadian Union of Public Employees (
  66. Moore T, S Clune, J Morrissey (2013) The importance of house size in the pursuit of low carbon housing. In: N Gurran, B Randolph (eds) Proceedings of the State of Australian Cities, Sydney. p 1–10, 26–29 NovGoogle Scholar
  67. Musgrave R (1974) Is a property tax on housing regressive? Am Econ Rev 64(2):222–229Google Scholar
  68. Næss P (2016) Urban planning: residential location and compensatory behaviour in three Scandinavian cities. In: Santarius T, Walnum H, Aall C (eds) Rethinking climate and energy policies: new perspectives on the rebound phenomenon. Springer, Berlin, pp 181–207Google Scholar
  69. Nasar J, Evans-Cowley J, Mantero V (2007) McMansions: the extent and regulation of super-sized houses. J Urb Des 12(3):339–358Google Scholar
  70. Niemeier D, Grattet R, Beamish T (2015) “Blueprinting” and climate change: regional governance and civic participation in land use and transportation. Environ Plan C (Gov Policy) 33(6):1600–1617Google Scholar
  71. Opschoor H (2010) Sustainable development and a dwindling carbon space. Environ Resour Econ 45(1):3–23Google Scholar
  72. Ortegon-Sahchez A, Tyler N (2016) Constructing a vision for an “ideal” future city: a conceptual model for transformative urban planning. Transp Res Procedia 13:6–17Google Scholar
  73. Pan X, Teng F, Wang G (2014) A comparison of carbon allocation schemes: on the equity-efficiency tradeoff. Energy 74:222–229Google Scholar
  74. Pawson E, Brooking T (2013) Making a new land: environmental histories of New Zealand. Otago University Press, OtagoGoogle Scholar
  75. Piketty T, Saez E (2007) How progressive is the US federal tax system? A historical and international perspective. J Econ Perspect 21(1):3–24Google Scholar
  76. Pippin S, Tosun M, Carslaw C, Mason R (2010) Property tax and other wealth taxes internationally: evidence from OECD countries. Adv Tax 19:145–169Google Scholar
  77. Princen T (2005) The logic of sufficiency. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  78. Reiner D (2005) Secession in the Garden State: the secession movement in Essex County, New Jersey and the law of deannexation. Rutgers Law Rev 57:1417–1446Google Scholar
  79. Reisch L, Thøgersen J (eds) (2015) Handbook of research on sustainable consumption. Edward Elgar, Northampton MA,Google Scholar
  80. Romei V (2017) UK’s property tax revenues are highest in OECD. Financial Times. Accessed 2 Mar
  81. Sabine B (1966) A history of income tax. Allen and Unwin, LondonGoogle Scholar
  82. Sanberg M (2018) Downsizing of housing: negotiating sufficiency and spatial norms. J Macromarketing 38(2):154–167Google Scholar
  83. Shiller R (2017) The transformation of the “American Dream.” The New York Times. Accessed 4 Aug
  84. Sirmans G, Gatzlaff D, Macpherson D (2008) Horizontal and vertical inequity in real property taxation. J Real Estate Lit 16(2):167–180Google Scholar
  85. Slack E (2016) Sustainable development and municipalities: getting the prices right. Can Public Policy 42(1):S73–S78Google Scholar
  86. Slack E, R Bird (2014) The political economy of property tax reform. OECD Working Papers on Fiscal Federalism 18. OECD, Paris (
  87. Sommer M, Kratena K (2017) The carbon footprint of European households and income distribution. Ecol Econ 136:62–72Google Scholar
  88. Spinney J, Kanaroglou P (2012) Municipal taxation and social exclusion: examining the spatial implications of taxing land instead of capital. Can J Urb Res 21(1):1–23Google Scholar
  89. Springer S (2015) Postneoliberalism. Rev Radic Political Econ 47(1):5–17Google Scholar
  90. Standing G (2011) The Precariat: the new dangerous class. Bloomsbury, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  91. Stephan A, Crawford R (2016) The relationship between house size and life cycle energy demand: implications for energy efficiency regulations for buildings. Energy 116:1158–1171Google Scholar
  92. Stewart W (1909a) Land tenure and land monopoly in New Zealand: I. J Polit Econ 17(2):82–91Google Scholar
  93. Stewart W (1909b) Land tenure and monopoly in New Zealand: II. J Polit Econ 17(3):144–152Google Scholar
  94. Sunderman M, Birch J, Cannaday R, Hamilton T (1990) Testing for vertical inequity in property tax systerns. J Real Estate Res 5(3):319–334Google Scholar
  95. Tencer D (2015) Soaring house prices are widening inequality, so raise property taxes, Stiglitz tells Canada. Huffington Post (Canada Business). Accessed 24 Nov
  96. Thakur P, S. Chen (2013) Singapore to raise property tax rates for luxury homeowners. ETF Advisor. Accessed 26 Feb
  97. Theodorides C (2016) Immovable property tax 2016. Cyprus Property News Magazine. Accessed 14 June
  98. Tomlinson P (2013) Singapore’s property taxes aim to deter foreign speculation South China Morning Post. Accessed 13 March
  99. Tukker A, Cohen M, Hubacek K, Mont O (2010) The impacts of household consumption and options for change. J Ind Ecol 14(1):13–30Google Scholar
  100. United Nations Environment Program (2010) Assessing the environmental impacts of consumption and production: priority products and materials. A report of the Working Group on the Environmental Impacts of Products and Materials to the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management by Hertwich E, van der Voet E, Suh S, Tukker A, Huijbregts M, Kazmierczyk P, Lenzen M, McNeely J, and Moriguchi Y. UNEP, Paris.
  101. Urbina I (2016) Perils of climate change could swamp coastal real estate. The New York Times. Accessed 24 Nov
  102. van Alphen Fyfe M (2016) Woe unto them that lay field to field: closer settlement in the early liberal era. Vic Univ Wellingt Leg Res Pap (
  103. Van Wychen J (2008) How to make the property tax more progressive. MinnPost. Accessed 12 May
  104. von Glahn R (2011) Book review of negotiating urban space: urbanization and late Ming Nanjing by Si-yen Fei. Harv J Asiat Stud 71(1):209–220Google Scholar
  105. Weber C, Matthews H (2008) Quantifying the global and distributional aspects of American household carbon footprint. Ecol Econ 66(2–3):379–391Google Scholar
  106. Wilson A, Boehland J (2005) Small is beautiful: US house size, resource use, and the environment. J Ind Ecol 9(1–2):277–287Google Scholar
  107. Yahya Y (2013) Budget 2013: more progressive property tax rates for Singaporean households. The Straits Times. Accessed 25 Feb
  108. Zech C (1980) Fiscal effects of urban zoning. Urb Aff Q 16(1):49–58Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New Jersey Institute of TechnologyNewarkUSA

Personalised recommendations