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 San Antonio, for example.
Last year, the San Antonio Express News reported that the city of San Antonio spent almost $200,000 on “a stainless steel bathroom kiosk that never closes”. Fabrication of the fancy porta potty cost $97,700 while its installation ran $88,196. And while the project is right now just a tester, the councilmember who led the charge to get it funded in the 2015-2016 budget hopes to replicate it elsewhere in the city “if it can handle hard-core use.”
Of course, one of the major drawbacks with this kind social experiment is that “the cost for these outdoor kiosks can quickly spiral if the facility becomes a hub for unlawful behavior, like drug use and prostitution.”
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.