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The property tax is the oldest major revenue source for state and local governments. At the beginning of the twentieth century, property taxes represented more than eighty percent of state and local tax revenue. While this share has diminished over time as states have introduced sales and income taxes, the property tax remains an important mechanism for funding education and other local services. But property taxes are regressive, and because these taxes are usually collected at the local level, the unequal distribution of wealth between rich and poor school districts can lead to inequitable school funding.
Sales and excise taxes, or consumption taxes, are an important revenue source, comprising close to half of all state tax revenues in 2010. But these taxes are inevitably regressive, falling far more heavily on low- and middle income taxpayers than on the wealthy. Consumption taxes also face structural problems that threaten their future viability. This chapter looks at how these taxes work, and outlines options for making consumption taxes somewhat less unfair and more sustainable.