This commentary originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on November 25, 2014.
Budgeting annually for the uncertain cost of paying property taxes is stressful.
Imagine not having to worry about mortgage payments fluctuating from changes in property tax rates or subjective property valuations determined by a county’s tax appraiser.
This dream could be a reality if state legislators swapped local property taxes for a reformed sales tax.
The prominent economist Arthur Laffer recently co-authored a report outlining the potential economic benefits from this tax swap. Their results show that the reformed sales tax would need to increase from the current state and local 8.25 percent rate to 11 percent along with a broader tax base that includes property and goods and services taxed in at least one state to be revenue neutral.
Despite the higher sales tax rate, this swap would benefit Texans because a sales tax is more transparent, efficient and simple than the 4,000-plus property taxes statewide, providing improved government accountability and more money in your pocket.
Accounting for these benefits and others from the tax swap, they find a stunning $23 billion increase in the state’s economy that could contribute to more than 200,000 net nonfarm jobs added during just the first five years after the swap.
These substantial gains would improve the well-being of all Texans, particularly the poor, from more job opportunities and the ability to actually own their property without paying rent forever.
Property taxes distort your decision of which home to purchase based on the valuations and rates in different locations. Income taxes disincentivize you to work because the government decides how much you should earn by forcing payment of income taxes before receiving your hard-earned dollars.
Though a sales tax is not perfect, it provides more choices for you to allocate property, which includes your house and paycheck, than other tax systems. Instead of being forced to pay property and income taxes or face fines, property loss, or jail, a tax system that is based on consumption places the power in your capable hands.
As critics of the tax swap claim, a sales tax tends to burden low-income Texans more than high-income earners. But consider the fact that property taxes are also regressive. And, according to a study by the Texas comptroller, all major taxes in Texas are regressive.
Critics attempting to discredit the tax swap based on the argument that sales taxes are more burdensome than property taxes because they are “regressive” are short-changing voters.
The regressivity of these taxes causes many of these same critics to lobby for creating a personal income tax in Texas. Consider that from 2003 to 2013 the nine states without a personal income tax had average growth rates in employment 2.3 times greater, in gross state product 1.3 times greater, and in state and local tax revenues 1.5 times greater than the nine states with the highest income tax rates.
The vastly greater opportunity to prosper in those states without an income tax provides evidence that Texas would be wise to never pass an income tax.
To increase individual liberty and unleash economic prosperity for all Texans, especially the neediest among us, the 84th Texas Legislature should build on a relatively solid foundation of limited government by eliminating, or at least lowering, property taxes.
Ginn is an economist in the Center for Fiscal Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.