For years, local officials have used the opacity and complexity of the property tax system to hide or dismiss claims of soaring tax bills. Oftentimes, this misdirection employs some blend of legalistic wording, repetitive messaging, and a biased handling of appraisals, tax rates, and exemptions.
Having watched this shell game unfold time and again without apology, it has been curious to watch some local officials, cheered on by the Texas Municipal League, rush to critique the methodology behind Senator Paul Bettencourt’s comparison of local tax growth versus household income growth. One local elected official, Frisco mayor Maher Maso, even went so far as to tell the Dallas Morning News that: “Someone made the decision to use this as misdirection. It’s very frustrating that they’re making an issue out of something that isn’t an issue.”
Ignoring the apparent double-standard at work here, the criticism is unearned. Even if one finds the Senator’s chart unpersuasive, there is plenty more evidence to substantiate his premise that local property tax bills are growing excessively, threatening the very livelihood of those footing the bill.
To buttress that claim, consider these four sources:
#1: The Freedom to Own Property: Reforming Texas’ Local Property Tax, Texas Public Policy Foundation
From 2000 to 2013, property tax levies soared by more than 101 percent. Over that same period, population and inflation—a commonly used metric that accounts for the rising cost of funding basic public goods and services along with economies of scale—rose just 70 percent.
#2: Biennial Property Tax Report: Tax Years 2014 and 2015, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Glenn Hegar
From 1996 to 2015, property taxes levied statewide grew, on average, by 5.82 percent year after year after year. In the biennium exclusive to the report, property tax levies grew by 8.5 percent in fiscal 2014 and by 6.31 in fiscal 2015. By comparison, population and inflation grew just 3.5 percent in each year, providing a good contrast of just how fast the burden of local government is growing.
#3: Texas Tax Conundrum, Texas A&M Real Estate Center
According to the Texas A&M Real Estate Center, from 1994 to 2015, inflation-adjusted property tax levies grew “generally” over the last 20 years for cities, counties, and special districts and expanded significantly for school districts.
#4: Your Money and the Taxing Facts, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs
According to the Texas Comptroller’s 2012 report, there was a 263 percent increase in the property tax levy from 1992 to 2010. Over the same period, population growth and inflation combined for a hike of just 121 percent.
Source: Texas Comptroller’s Your Money and the Taxing Facts
There’s no question that property taxes are soaring beyond what they should be. All the evidence makes that much clear. The only question is—what is the Texas Legislature prepared to do about it?
This would be a good start.