Tarrant County state senators recently wrote a joint letter rebuking “bold-faced lies” from a county official who blamed lawmakers for higher property taxes.
During his State of the County address, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley suggested state lawmakers have caused school taxes to skyrocket. Conveniently, he directed the conversation away from county property taxes to school district maintenance and operation (M&O) taxes. Whitley’s presentation included the following:
“Property values and the estimates of local [school property] tax collections on which they are based shall be increased by 7.04 percent for tax year 2017 and by 6.77 percent in tax year 2018.”
Local media outlets were quick to run with Whitley’s narrative, which suggested the state’s budget mandated higher school taxes. Whitley suggested that – because the budget included these revenue assumptions – lawmakers caused the increase.
But those claims are misleading. The figures are simply revenue assumptions based on tax rate and property valuation forecasts. The joint letter from Republican State Sens. Konni Burton, Brian Birdwell, Kelly Hancock, and Jane Nelson reads:
“[Whitley] tells a bold-faced lie about the state budget and local property taxes and is hailed as a “truth teller” by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram? Let’s set the record straight. Local property tax rates are set by locally elected officials. Period. They are not determined by an informational rider in the state budget as Whitley dishonestly suggests. He well knows our school finance formula dictates that local property tax revenue goes into the system first, with state funding added on top. This has been the case since the 1940s. Local property tax collections dictate the state’s share of education funding – not vice versa.”
While school tax collections are rising, it’s not because the state is mandating they increase. Local school boards are not reducing property tax rates as property values rise, causing taxpayers to pay higher bills. The letter continued:
“TEA Rider 3 lists the Comptroller estimates for local property tax collections. Actual collections are determined at the local level…This estimate is a projection, not a target. And by no means is it a directive for local governments to raise taxes. [Whitley] knows this. His speech was not ’unplugged.’ It was uninformed at best and willfully misleading at worst.”
The senators’ letter also challenged the myth that lawmakers have cut K-12 funding. While the state’s share of the K-12 funding burden has decreased, due to rising local tax revenue, state funding has also increased.
“When one considers all funding sources, our current budget increased education funding by $5.2 billion. Whether at the state or local level, Texas taxpayers are footing this bill…The Texas Commission on School Finance is actively conducting an in-depth review of [school finance formulas] to ensure we have an equitable education system that prepares our students for success. The musings of a county judge with zero responsibility over public education are not going to help us get there.”
Whitley conveniently left out his own role in higher property taxes. He is one of five locally elected officials with 100 percent control over county and hospital district taxes. These two property-taxing entities make up 20 percent of a taxpayer’s total bill.
According to their website, Tarrant County’s property tax collections increased 5.3 percent in FY 2017, and 4.8 percent in FY 2018. Only 53 percent of the new revenue came from new economic development.
In other words, more than 47 percent of the increase came from a property tax hike on existing residents and businesses in Tarrant County. Conveniently for him, Whitley excluded these facts from his remarks.