Recent comments made by Tarrant County’s Tax Assessor Ron Wright are certain to anger tax-hiking local officials fearing dissemination of the truth. In a recent article, Wright helped expose local officials who have resorted to propaganda to help deflect blame for property tax increases on everyone but themselves.
In an interview with the Arlington Voice, Wright explained how taxing jurisdictions such as cities, school districts, and counties have the power to prevent tax increases for their residents by lowering tax rates enough to offset rising land values.
As property values rise, local governments often keep their tax rates the same, resulting in taxpayers paying a higher tax bill. They then falsely claim they didn’t “raise taxes,” even though individual taxpayers end up paying a bigger tax bill.
“When property values increase, it’s up to the taxing jurisdictions to adjust their tax rates,” Wright said. “Elected officials love to brag about ‘not raising taxes,’ but that’s not entirely true when [local governments] are collecting more money at the same [tax] rate. If people would complain as much to their local elected officials about tax rates as they do to the appraisal district about values, you would see a totally different outcome.”
Wright’s comments came after Tarrant County residents were slapped with rising tax bills resulting from a ten percent appraisal increase countywide. As the tax collector, Wright’s office gets angry phone calls. But his office doesn’t control the appraisal process, nor does he determine the tax rate levied by local officials. But city, county, and school officials certainly do.
Despite the myth propagated by the anti-taxpayer (yet taxpayer-funded) Texas Municipal League, along with local officials hungry for more of your money, rising appraisals aren’t technically the culprit for ever-increasing property taxes.
As Wright clarified, that’s because local officials set the tax rates. And since local officials are given the next year’s appraisal values prior to setting their tax rates, they knowingly decide whether or not to increase tax burdens on their residents.
Tax increases are not accidental nor are they automatic; they are conscious decisions made by local politicians.
In fact, state law requires officials to be told precisely what tax rate they could levy to keep tax burdens flat, otherwise known as the “effective tax rate.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has publicly pledged to address property tax reform next session, and appointed an interim committee, chaired by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), to travel around the state to listen to concerned Texans.
One of the most popular reforms is to empower local voters by requiring a public vote for tax increases that exceed a certain level. The legislature has currently set that limit at eight percent, but it’s a soft limit. For local officials who vote to exceed the eight percent threshold, the law does not require an automatic election.
As with all pro-taxpayer reforms, far too many local officials vehemently oppose the idea of allowing voters an opportunity to reject excessive tax increases. The only mechanism currently available for Texans is to elect new representatives in May, when an incumbent’s term expires.
For those interested in exercising that option, Election Day for city and school district officials is Saturday, May 7th, 2016.