Texas has a property tax problem. The Lone Star State currently imposes the sixth highest effective property tax rate in the nation, and in 2015 alone, more than 4,100 local taxing entities soaked taxpayers for $52.2 billion in property taxes. That’s enough to take $1,900 from every man, woman, and child in Texas or about $8,000 from a family of four.
Efforts to wrangle Texas’ property tax have been front-and-center this legislative session with a number of different ideas bandied about. One leading proposal would create a property tax trigger, allowing revenues to grow some before triggering an election to allow voters to decide if higher taxes are merited.
Conservatives are very much in support of this reform, but opposition to the idea has been fierce with claims that it will put public safety at risk. But is that actually the case?
Looking at the landscape of local public finance, it’s hard to say that there’s a revenue problem but easy to see there’s a priority problem. Take Bexar County, for example. Last year, county officials approved spending $735,000 on a 60-ft. high aluminum sculpture of a human face. Funding for the project was secured through a certificate of obligation, or nonvoter approved debt, with interest charges on the new debt costing taxpayers an additional $60,000.
Southern Methodist University’s associate professor said it best, “Public art projects are not a legitimate function of local government.” It’s disingenuous to force taxpayers to fork out huge sums of money for large, lavish public art projects while simultaneously claiming that reasonable reform will devastate public budgets.
Real reform may be a threat to pet projects and wasteful spending, but it’s no threat to public safety. It’s time to move forward with these reforms and protect Texans against being taxed out of their homes and businesses.