When pressed about state leaders’ concerted effort to legislate tighter revenue caps on cities, counties and school districts, Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver expressed not only grave disappointment but the fact local control has long been championed as a conservative tenet, a principle that invests faith and trust in that level of governance closest to the people. Not anymore. Your father’s conservatism has degenerated into something very different. State leaders today find it politically convenient to vilify town councils, county government and school boards across Texas for problems that, ironically, state leaders helped create.
“It’s going to make it very hard to plan for things like the street program that we have started — and seems to have broad support — and for public safety, police and firefighting,” Deaver told Trib staff writer Phillip Ericksen last week. “All those things require continued funding, so it’s just going to make it more difficult for us to deal with those things at the local level.” Councilman John Kinnaird echoed the mayor, noting that the tighter cap on property-tax revenue “really takes away our ability to do our job, and it’s going to be felt, impacted and seen.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and new House Speaker Dennis Bonnen announced Thursday they had joined forces to bring property-tax relief by filing identical bills patterned after Abbott’s 2018 plan, which we’ve written about extensively. This would strictly limit growth in tax revenue from property taxes to 2.5 percent from one year to the next, barring new construction. This supposedly will prompt city councils, county officials and school boards to restrain spending and set lower tax rates to avoid drawing more revenue than is permissible. To override revenue caps, political subdivisions would have to get voters’ permission. The current cap is 8 percent.
Dirty little secret: State officials themselves have partially increased our property-tax burden by compelling increases in local property values to help fund more and more of public education. This has allowed legislators to consequently spend less state money on schools. At one point, public education costs were almost evenly covered by state funds and local property taxes. Not anymore.
State officials have one big plus going for them: The tax reality is complicated. Many who pay property taxes find it easier to blame the local appraisal district and political subdivisions. Many also forget our state has higher property taxes and sales taxes partially because we lack a state income tax. It’s highly unlikely the governor’s plan will stop property taxes from rising, but we can all revisit this prediction in a few years, assuming this medicine show of a bill passes both chambers. So what would lower property taxes? For starters, the State of Texas might again start funding its fair share of public education. Republican state Rep. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth has filed HJR 24 to press the state, by constitutional amendment, to fund at least half of public education as in bygone days. We propose judging our local state lawmakers’ very electability in 2020 based on their support of this eminently reasonable notion. We’ll be watching — and so should you.