Local officials in Texas continue to mislead the public regarding statewide property tax reform. While over two hundred government officials and employees traveled to Austin in 2017 to oppose taxpayers, it’s their false rhetoric that Texans should find most repugnant.

Too many local politicians and their overpaid city managers are utterly tone deaf. They continue to spread contradictory rhetoric from the Texas Municipal League, which claims that giving local voters the ability to vote on annual tax increases is somehow “Austin overreach.” Such rhetoric is contradictory on its face.

TML’s Executive Director issued a ridiculous statement that explicitly criticized lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott – who support giving voters a say on local tax hikes – because that would allegedly restrict “local voters [from] having a voice.”

They characterize laws that empower local voters – including those that protect private property rights – as somehow stripping away “local control.” This is a clear obfuscation of terms.

In truth, all of the proposed reforms limit local government control, and empower Texans. Lawmakers who espouse “limited government” rhetoric should impose stricter limits on local politicians, including their power to tax and regulate, to protect Texans from local government overreach.

So why do so many government officials oppose pro-taxpayer reforms, and why do they insist on muddling the debate with misleading rhetoric? The answer is simple: They are either hoping to avoid accountability for their own decisions, or, they’re ignorant and don’t understand the policy issue.

Either way, they cannot and should not be trusted with power.

For more than three decades, local officials have been misleading Texans about the driving cause of skyrocketing property taxes. To many local officials, they ironically are somehow not responsible for the decisions they make. Officials from every category will blame appraisal districts for higher taxes, while cities and counties blame our opaque school finance system. The first claim is misleading, and the second is a deflection.

Government spending is driving tax increases, not appraisal districts. And locally elected officials – not lawmakers – control the tax levies, spending, and debt of local school districts, cities, counties, hospitals, and community colleges.

In regards to school finance, conservatives should address it. But it must be tackled separately from the rest of the property tax system. Not only is school finance complex, it’s wholly unrelated to taxes imposed by every other taxing entity, which collectively amount to roughly fifty percent of your total tax bill.

Lawmakers need to repeal Robin Hood and stop shifting the K-12 funding burden away from the state and onto local taxpayers. But even still, doing so would affect less than forty percent of the average Texan’s tax bill, when school debt is excluded. School bonds are repaid with a tax rate (I&S) separate from the one tied to Robin Hood (M&O).

School boards are anything but blameless for higher taxes. They’re wholly responsible for school debt, which is repaid with higher I&S property tax rates.

Even worse, public schools rarely support reforms that empower their voting constituency. In fact, they oppose them. Public schools vigorously opposed transparency reforms that would disclose to voters on the ballot – for the five to ten percent that show up in May or August – how much any given debt proposition would raise their  taxes. In 2017, public schools supported HB 486, a terrible bill that would prevent voters from being able to vote on school tax hikes!

Shamefully, the Texas House passed the bill written by the education lobby, with only 49 of 95 House Republicans opposing the measure.

House Leadership is actually sending out push cards claiming they passed “property tax relief.” While Texans will disagree and debate over their policy differences, they should not tolerate misleading “public servants.” Few offenses are more aggravating to voters than dishonest government officials at any level.

Texans should be wary of local officials who oppose tax reform and relief. Texas homeowners pay the fourth-highest property tax bills in the nation, and the second highest among those without a personal income tax. Taxpayers deserve real, structural tax reform from Republican lawmakers in the upcoming special session, which officially kicks off on July 18. But taxpayers must speak louder than the local government forces opposing them.

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Ross Kecseg

Ross Kecseg was the president of Texas Scorecard. He passed away in 2020. A native North Texan, he was raised in Denton County. Ross studied Economics at Arizona State University with an emphasis on Public Policy and U.S. Constitutional history. Ross was an avid golfer, automotive enthusiast, and movie/music junkie. He was a loving husband and father.