Essays in Political Economy
Edited by Susan Rose-Ackerman and Paul Lagunes
Chapter 7: Saving Gotham: fighting corruption in New York City’s property tax system
The Department of Finance collects vital revenue for the City of New York. One of its major responsibilities is determining the value of more than one million properties spread across the city’s five boroughs (NYC Finance 2014). To accomplish this task Finance’s Real Property Assessment Unit relies on property tax assessors. Property tax assessors are front line bureaucrats responsible for determining the rate at which property owners should be taxed. They perform three important tasks: First, property tax assessors ensure that properties are assigned to the appropriate tax categories; second, they verify that the characteristics of both building and land are correct; and third, they value properties in accordance with the existing guidelines (NYC Finance 2014). The role that property tax assessors play in New York City’s public administration supports the thesis that bureaucrats often have considerable bearing on citizen’s lives (Weber 1958; Wilson 1978; Lipsky 1980; Woll 2009). In carrying out their responsibilities, they have access to privileged information and wield broad discretionary powers, which place them at an advantage vis à vis the voting public (Dodd and Schott 1979; Ferejohn 1999; Rose Ackerman 1999; Stiglitz 2002). The information asymmetry that gives bureaucrats, in general, and property tax assessors, in particular, relative power over the citizenry can lead to abuse.
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