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 City of Houston, for example.
Last year, the Houston Chronicle reported that the Houston city council had approved a Capital Improvement Plan, on a vote of 14-2, which included a $260,000 giveaway to the bicyclist community “to install shower facilities at City Hall”. Interestingly, the council overwhelmingly approved funding for this project even as a few councilmembers raised concerns about “uneven walkways around City Hall”.
This is a small-but-telling example of government waste is indicative of the real 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.