Dallas Mayor Pro-Tem Casey Thomas came out swinging against taxpayers and property tax reform Wednesday.
During his testimony before the Texas Senate’s committee on property tax reform, Thomas referred to House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 2 as a “rollback cap” that would hurt public safety, a claim freshman State Sen. Angela Paxton (R–McKinney) quickly corrected him on.
“What we’re really talking about here is letting voters decide. It’s not a cap, it’s just a trigger that says what do the voters want here,” she said.
Thomas went on to paint a nightmare scenario of Dallas “losing $32 million” in their Fiscal Year 2018-2019 budget had the 2.5 percent tax increase limit been in effect then, saying it would be the “equivalent to the pension of 358 uniformed officers.” He went on to claim that the $11,000 pay increase for starting police, fire, and rescue personnel Dallas recently approved would have been impossible if HB2 and SB2 had been passed beforehand.
Thomas said that while he “empathizes” with the ever-growing burden of taxpayers, “some growth is unavoidable” and property tax reform would stifle the city’s ability to respond to the needs of their citizens.
“It’s a threat to critical city services such as public safety.”
If passed, the lawmaker’s proposal would not cut a city’s budget as Thomas claimed. It would simply require local voter approval for a tax hike of 2.5 percent or more. The reform would still allow city officials to raise tax burdens 2.49 percent without voter approval, on top of collecting additional property and other tax revenue from growth. State Sen. Kelly Hancock (R–North Richland Hills) challenged Thomas using public safety as a shield against property tax reform.
“Do you think asking [the] city to find 2 percent reduction without touching fire and police is a fair question to ask? Is that a fair request for those individuals, in some areas suffering in double digit growth,” Hancock asked. Thomas’ reply was that he wanted to make sure the city provided quality public services.
Hancock said he felt strongly that savings could be found in Dallas’ $1.37 billion budget without touching public safety, since the alleged “loss” Thomas pointed to made up roughly 2 percent of the city’s entire budget.
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston), the chairman of the Property Tax committee and author of SB2, also corrected Thomas on his spin of property tax reform, pointing out that neither the house nor senate bills would cut a city’s existing budget or police and fire. “[W]hen you read a script saying we’re going to lay off police and fire, that’s not what this bill does.”
Bettencourt also showed a graph, based on research from a Dallas newspaper, that showed over a four-year period the average homeowner’s city portion of property taxes in Dallas had increased 33.6 percent, making Dallas’ one of the highest tax rates in Texas. “People can’t pay that type of increase. They don’t have a 33 percent increase in their income in four years.”
Bettencourt restated that property tax reform was about slowing the growth of property taxes, not targeting public services.
“I’m trying to keep people in their homes,” said Bettencourt. “I’m trying to keep people in their businesses.”
Data from the Dallas Central Appraisal District backs up the senator’s critique. It shows the average Dallas homeowner’s city portion of their tax bill has increased 43.7 percent in only five years.
Thomas appointed the member of Dallas’ ineffective Citizens Police Review Board who presented at a January 17 downhill meeting a series of controversial reforms, one of which calls for at least $1 million more dollars in taxpayer funding.