Saturday, November 27, 2010

Remembering when the Henry George Club ran Pittsburgh

You have to go over the pond to hear a heartbeat for Henry George these days..   and if you don't know who George is you probably want to skip all of this.......

But via Dublin is something on Pittsburgh's history with the single tax.  Looks like there is a chapter on us focusing on Henry George in: Review: Flaming Vesuvius Edited by Richard Douthwaite Argosy, from the Irish Independent.

Curious.  I guess Dan's connection is an Irish name?

Gotta pull out all of my tiered tax notes because I am teaching Urban Economics in the spring..   Those kids will be the last generation of folks in town who know Henry George's impact on Pittsburgh if it is the last thing I do gosh darn it.  Long long time since Pittsburgh was run by the Henry George club and an even longer time since the graded tax was first implemented in Pittsburgh. If that seems ancient news, it was not all that long ago that the single tax was still a headline item for Pittsburgh.    At least until it all went away. Hold that thought though or skip to the last paragraph.

Wonder what George would think of the whole parking tax/lease/privatize debates ongoing? (Slap!) Down, Briem, down.  OK, let's not confuse those issues any more than the powers have already.  Best not to introduce any actual economics into the debates to confuse the issues further.


Stop there.  Not going to get into a primer on the single tax.  The rest of this will be complete gibberish if you don't have that. So the rest is just for the ADB. Others will want to refresh themselves on who Henry George was. You can always check Wikipedia or for those with academic access there is also: The Operation of the Pittsburgh Graded Tax Plan.

Seriously...  if only because the pre-reassessment real estate data for the county was so completely unworkable, there really was an article or two to be written on how the demise of the single tax (or technically tiered in our case)a decade ago helped some and hurt others.  It is a lot more compicated than it may appear.  It appears to have been done in by the perception, the true perception in itself, that the tax aided large Downtown owners.  Yet it also hurt those on all of the relatively smaller real estate parcels in the city.  For a good contemporary omni-history on the demise of Henry George in Pittsburgh, again talk to Tim (and Mark).

What I do remember looking at was that the Downtown issue was not as stark as it may seem.   There was a benefit to the parcels that were the most built up on small footprints.  So the Steel Building and Gulf Tower benefited from a tiered tax (which was the entire point mind you).   But the owners of other large structures like Gateway Center(s)?  Not as much as you would have thought since the buildings are large, but the real estate parcel they sit on were collectively pretty large as well.  The remainder of Downtown is not worth as much as you would think so their values were indeed more in the land than you may have thought. 

Alas..  all that and the truth is even more complicated.  If you really parse it, Henry George may be having a revival of sorts right here in Pennsylvania.  When you really deconstruct the tax-math-accounting of it, a lot of TIF's and tax incentives are really a tiered tax by other means, though some Georgists react a bit badly to the analogy. We can debate TIF implementation, here and elsewhere, another day. That and things like the Pittsburgh tax abatement program (modeled a bit loosely on Philadelphia's groundbreaking tax abatement program) are effectively Georgian in intent, if not name.

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