The impact of property tax limitations adopted by several eastern U.S. states in the past five years has been mixed for local governments and schools, ranging from restrictive to modest to minimal, Standard & Poor’s said in a report this week.
“In some states, the limitations have posed minimal fiscal constraints based on either the magnitude of the cap, the ability to override, or the allowable exceptions,” said Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Lindsay Wilhelm.
“In others, however, the caps have put practical limitations on budgetary flexibility, and local governments have varied in their response and ability to make budgetary adjustments to function within their available means,” Wilhelm said.
Analysts said that a host of additional factors can exacerbate or mitigate the financial pressure tax caps can create, including the flexibility in an issuer’s cost structure, the degree of mandate funding, the tools available to mitigate pressures, and the availability of alternative revenue sources.
The ratings agency assesses each issue individually and considers some state property tax limitations more restrictive and some less restrictive.
Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Georgia school districts have some of the most restrictive property tax limitations.
In Massachusetts, municipalities have been coping with a tax cap for more than 30 years. In New Jersey, the legislature adopted a 2% property tax cap in 2010 which replaced a 4% tax cap that was adopted in 2007.
In New York, municipalities and school districts are subject to two property tax limitations. The first is an overall tax rate limit applicable to cities, counties and villages, ranging from 1.5% to 2.5%, and the second is a recently enacted maximum annual levy increase on all taxing districts equal to the lesser of 2% or the rate of inflation.
Delaware, Florida, Maine, North Carolina, Rhode Island and West Virginia are limited, but less restrictive.
Standard & Poor’s has not made any across-the-board rating changes or set rating ceilings as a direct result of the property tax limitation initiatives.
“The real impact of a tax cap, in our opinion, is on an issuer’s budgetary flexibility, which we analyze over time, and is just one element of our overall analysis,” analysts said.