The Politics of Property Taxation: Fiscal Infrastructure and Electoral Incentives in Brazil

Abstract

Land titling enables tax collection and encourages private investment. Yet, governments across the developing world often fail to invest in land registration systems, such as cadastral maps that record land ownership and values. In this paper, we describe and estimate the fiscal benefits and political costs that elected officials face when deciding whether to invest in this critical fiscal infrastructure. Focusing on Brazilian municipalities, we find that cadaster updates increase property tax revenue by over 10 percent. Officials covet this revenue, but they simultaneously seek to secure their reelection, and investing in the cadaster can generate political costs by angering tax-averse voters or undermining clientelism. When these political costs are large, officials that do not face reelection pressures have greater incentives to invest in the cadaster. Using a close-election regression discontinuity, we find that term-limited incumbents are around 15 percentage points more likely to update the cadaster.

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