Here at Empower Texans we talk a lot about property taxes. It’s the number one fiscal issue Texas taxpayers complain about. The Republican Party of Texas named it a top legislative priority for state lawmakers in 2019.

Residents in the Flower Mound area agree.

The Flower Mound Area Republican Club invited me to speak with them this week about property taxes. They were very interested to learn more about how the state’s property tax system works and what can be done about their ever-increasing tax bills.

The reason Texans in Flower Mound and across the state care about this issue is simple: out-of-control property tax burdens are affecting how Texans of all ages live their lives, threatening people’s financial security and crushing their dreams. We hear all the time from Texans who are being taxed out of their homes, especially those on fixed incomes.

Yet the response from most elected officials responsible for raising Texans’ property tax bills is, at best, to claim it’s beyond their control. At worst, they claim to need more and more of taxpayers’ money to spend on a dizzying array of non-essential projects.

So, what can be done to protect taxpayers?

Understanding the current tax system is key to fighting for meaningful changes. So is understanding what’s driving higher property taxes: spending.

Taxes are collected for one purpose: to spend. When cities, counties, school districts, and other entities want to spend more, they tax more; and they always want to spend more. But do they need to? And who gets to decide between wants and needs — the elected officials who tax and spend, or the taxpayers?

The best way to control property taxes is to control local spending, and the best way to control spending is to elect fiscally responsible conservatives.

But taxpayers can’t rely solely on the goodness of people in office. The property tax system itself must be designed to both serve the needs of the public and protect taxpayers, in a transparent and accountable way. Giving local taxpayers a vote on excessive property tax increases is a great way to increase local government accountability to citizens. So is requiring all elections that impact taxes to be held on uniform election dates when voter participation is higher.

Any property tax relief plan must address public school spending, as that’s where the biggest chunk of Texans’ property tax bills goes. Everyone agrees the current convoluted system of financing public schools with property taxes isn’t serving anyone well, but a fix requires bold legislative action. The Texas Public Policy Foundation has a solution that calls on state lawmakers to eliminate the “Robin Hood” tax (the portion of school property taxes that’s spent on maintenance and operations) and shift that cost to the state. TPPF proposes buying down local M&O taxes with state surpluses generated by limiting the growth of spending. Again, controlling spending is the key to controlling taxes.

Texans in Flower Mound and every other area of the state are demanding real property tax relief – from their county appraisal districts; their city councils, county commissioners, school board trustees, and other taxing entity officials; and from state lawmakers.

But reform won’t happen without effective citizen engagement. No institution will fight harder for the taxpayers than taxpayers themselves. Taxpayers must take action if they want meaningful solutions. Empower Texans is happy to serve as a resource.

You can count on Texas Scorecard to report on property tax issues at the local and state level. If you want someone to talk to your group about property taxes, our speakers’ bureau has you covered. Our Texas Torchbearers program is here to help you become effective citizen-activists. And our Fiscal Responsibility Index is a powerful tool for identifying which lawmakers have a pro-taxpayer voting record.

Texans want property tax relief, and Empower Texans will work with you to get it done.

Someone is always keeping score. We think it ought to be the taxpayers.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.