Texas’ property tax burden is enormous. In 2015, more than 4,100 local taxing entities soaked taxpayers for $52.2 billion in property taxes. That’s enough to ding every man, woman, and child in Texas for $1,900 or cost a family of four about $8,000.
Most agree that the burden is too high, but attempts at easing the swell were stymied last session due, in part, to criticism that giving voters a voice in the process would harm cities’ ability to pay for basic services, like police, fire and EMS.
Let’s be clear: claiming that property tax reform will harm public safety is a scare tactic and a bad one at that—especially considering how many silly examples of local government waste there are. Take the Austin Water Utility, for example.
Earlier this year, the Austin American-Statesman highlighted a scathing audit of Austin Water Utility, the city’s water and wastewater department, that found “$67,000 in city payments to NextGen Web from 2013 to 2016 to palce ads on seven websites, from which the city got 55 clicks on its messaging—a cost-per-click of more than $1,200.” [emphasis mine] Setting aside questions about why a municipally-managed monopoly is advertising online in the first place, anyone in the private or public sectors spending $1,200 per click to market a message isn’t acting in the best interest of their boss, which in this case is the taxpayer.
This small-but-telling example of government waste is indicative of a much bigger problem locally—an absence of priorities. And that problem is only being enabled by a broken property tax system that offers no real protection for homeowners and businesses. At least not yet.
Putting reasonable restraints on the growth of Texas’ property tax will not harm public safety, but it may force local governments to better prioritize their budgets and stop spending like drunken sailors. And that’s something we should all support.