A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll shows that 72 percent of Texans support “requiring local governments to ask voters before raising property tax revenues more than a set amount.” This support was on display during recent public hearings on nearly identical bills in Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2, both of which would provide historic property tax reforms to rein in skyrocketing property taxes.
Both hearings had local officials and taxpayer-funded lobbyists testifying in droves in order to voice concerns with “revenue caps” and possible “spending cuts.” However, neither of these bills impose a revenue cap nor spending cuts. Instead, these bills will help tame wasteful government spending and expand local control to voters—where it belongs.
Many local officials testified that they agreed with these bills’ components except the 2.5 percent rollback rate. Any tax revenue sought above this rate would trigger an automatic election in November. They claim this “revenue cap” would stifle the ability to fund essential government services, such as public safety, as their jurisdictions grow.
These claims are incorrect and misinform Texans. It’s time to set the record straight.
The rollback rate is a rate which a taxing authority can increase its property tax revenue without voter approval. Currently, the rollback rate is 8 percent. If a tax entity raises revenue above that rate, voters then have the option to start a long and arduous petition process to call for a rollback election. The tax hike is automatic; the rollback election isn’t.
And opponents of the tax hike have a limited amount of time to gather signatures; that period usually occurs in the late summer, when busy families are getting ready for school to start and just getting on with their lives. That’s why rollback elections are relatively rare.
This rate of potential increase in property taxes means they can double every nine years without your approval. Such an increase is a heavy burden on Texas families, and forces too many of them out of their homes and businesses, and prevents many others from buying their first homes.
The reforms in SB 2 and HB 2 give voters the opportunity to take control over rampant tax increases and slow the growth rate drastically, reducing the non-voter approved doubling from every nine years to every 29 years. This is a much more manageable situation, given increases in wages and inflation over time.
Of course, this is just the non-voter approved tax increases, as taxes could increase above the 2.5 percent rollback rate with a vote of the people along with new property, improvements, and debt that aren’t a part of the calculation.
The current 8 percent rollback rate reflects the Legislature’s actions in 1981 when they set the rate below double-digit inflation. The inflation environment since then has been much more muted. It has averaged only 2.5 percent per year over the last 20 years, which is the same as the proposed rate and better reflects today’s situation of less than a 2 percent inflation rate.
Ultimately, these reforms bills don’t cap revenue or cut spending. They allow for citizens to take a more thorough look at their local government’s spending habits, to be sure their taxpayer dollars are being appropriately prioritized to secure liberty (such as public safety), and to decide for themselves whether they give government more of their hard-earned dollars.
These reforms will help put power into taxpayers’ hands to rein in skyrocketing property taxes, so that hopefully one day property taxes can be eliminated for Texans to achieve more abundant prosperity.