Property tax reformers scored a big win on Friday when the House Ways and Means committee voted 8 – 1 to advance House Bill 4, a proposal to reduce the rollback tax rate and require an automatic election for large local governments wanting to increase their budgets by more. That pair of structural reforms is something that fiscal conservatives have long called for in the hope of empowering voters and improving accountability.
But not everyone is a fan of these measures.
In this weekend’s San Antonio Express-News, Mayor Ron Nirenberg was a prominent critic of HB 4 who expressed his dismay over the bill’s advancement, stating:
“There are those in the Legislature who maintain their own political comfort by putting pain on our children and grandchildren. They are limiting future generations’ ability raise the revenue required to keep cities healthy.” [emphasis mine]
In response to the mayor’s remarks, here are a few things to consider. First, HB 4 isn’t proposing to limit a community’s ability to raise revenues, but rather is way to bring voters into the conversation once government has grown beyond a certain measure. Communities would still retain the ability to raise property taxes to almost any level under HB 4; they’d simply have to get the public’s permission first.
Second, and this is a criticism that applies more broadly, the focus of the debate ought not be on keeping cities healthy, but on keeping families and individuals healthy. It’s the prosperity and success of the latter that the former depends upon.
Lastly and relatedly, HB 4 poses no danger to cities’ ability to raise a healthy amount of tax revenue year-after-year. The bill currently allows property taxes to grow 6 percent without voter approval and possibly more if voters permit. That said, the prospect of an election may force city officials to do a better job prioritizing the revenues they have available—something that is sorely needed, as we’ve chronicled in the past (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).