"LAND RENT TAX CONCEPT KEEPS ON KICKING" - Calhoun's Carl Shaw Is Major Proponent

By Edward Peeks, Labor Writer

Re-Published from Charleston Daily Mail

A land rent tax is good for what ails the economic health of West Virginia, according to property appraiser and single-tax advocate Carl F. Shaw of Mt. Zion, Calhoun County.

He proposes again to the Legislature, as in the past, a tax on the rent of land, not on the soil, he's quick to say.

"We are talking about collecting the rent, which is already there by virtue of society's presence, expenditures for public improvements and economic activities," Shaw said during an interview the other day in Charleston.

The single-tax program, he insists, would replace other taxes and, in effect, would put to work a lot of idle land in the state, thus enhancing the value of land. From that would come more capital investment, jobs and tax fairness.

"All vacant land whose owners have no development plans can be classified as speculative land," Shaw said. "Speculators are owners who can pay land taxes out of their pockets and never worry about laborers who can't find work."

He said a land tax program that works in Pittsburgh and Scranton, Pa., is based on Pennsylvania law dating back to 1925. It's called the Graded Tax Plan, adopted by these two second-class cities, but not by 47 third-class cities eligible under the law.

I asked Shaw why. He said there's opposition to the tax program all over and a lot of misunderstanding. "It takes time for people to catch on," he said.

His packet of information, nonetheless, suggests that the land tax plan has had a slow crawl in the industrialized world since it was introduced in the late 18th century by English economist David Ricardo.

Later, American economist Henry George championed similar taxation, which is kept alive today as an alternative tax by the Henry George Foundation.

Shaw proposes phasing in his single-tax program in West Virginia over a 15-year period. The phase-in calls for a two-rate property tax to start, one rate on improvements or buildings, and the other on land. The latter will be the higher of the two during the course of the program.

Changes are made gradually under the plan that would become effective January 2006 and fully implemented in 2021.

Landowners who prove financial hardship will be allowed to defer tax payment, "until the owner gets into better condition, dies or sells the property," the proposal says.

"West Virginia is about fourth in the nation in natural resources," it notes, saying that, "It seems that most of the current taxes levied on resources are severance-type taxes, based on production, rather than site. These two types of taxation have diametrically opposite economic effects. Taxing the site will stimulate production."

The proposal asks for a legislation study this year and a decision on whether the plan requires a vote by the people to put in place in 2006.

Shaw doubtless proves that the idea for a land tax is still alive and kicking in West Virginia and other states as well. It has believers — whatever their numbers — who won't let the idea go away.

"For generations, we have allowed landowners to buy and hold valuable parcels for very low land taxes, an investment strategy open only to a few," Shaw told me.

Check the Charleston Daily Mail online.

- Carl Shaw is a resident of the Village of Hur.