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 that there’s a priority problem. Take the city of Austin, for example. In 2006, voters approved a $90 million bond to fund the construction of a Central Library. Years later, the city council chose to allocate another $30 million to the project and in 2016, officials added another $5 million on top of that. The reason for the added cost and delays is still not clear, but officials broadly claimed “there was revisioning…of the library so we could become a library of the future.” (sic)
On top of the cost of construction, KXAN reported yesterday that “the library will cost roughly $11 million to maintain year-round.” Though the article does go on to specify that some of that operating cost will be paid for through fees and commercial activity. Still, that’s a lot of money to ask from taxpayers, both on the front-end for construction and in perpetuity to run.
Property tax reform may be a threat to these kinds of 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.