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Columbia Law Review




Many states turn in sizable part to local property taxes to finance public education. Political and academic discourse on the extent to which these taxes should serve in this role largely centers on second-order issues, such as the vices and virtues of local control, the availability of mechanisms to redistribute property tax revenues across school districts, and the overall stability of those revenues. This Essay contends that such discourse would benefit from directing greater attention to the justice of the government’s threshold choices about property law and policy that impact the property values against which property taxes are levied.

The Essay classifies these choices into three categories: structural choices relating to infrastructure and land use; financial choices relating to subsidies and exemptions; and protective choices relating to forestalling natural and human-induced adversities. This taxonomy reveals that if the government made different choices surrounding the content of property rights, those choices would produce different property values and, thus, different distributions of the property tax revenues that finance public education. The Essay distills a series of norms—circumstance-sensitivity, antidiscrimination, and interconnectedness—that can serve as a useful starting point for a justice-inspired evaluation of these omnipresent choices about property that are inevitably linked to educational opportunity and delivery.

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Columbia Law School

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