In an op-ed for the Dallas Morning News, real estate developer and former State Sen. Don Huffines explains how lawmakers can phase out a portion of school property taxes within 8 to 10 years.
Huffines was one of several candidates who challenged Gov. Greg Abbott during last year’s Republican primary, and while he fell short in his campaign to unseat the incumbent governor, he succeeded in popularizing solutions to certain longstanding, problematic issues such as the border crisis and rising property taxes. Eventually, Abbott was forced to respond to these concerns, and during his only debate with Democrat challenger Beto O’Rourke, he said his “goal is to eliminate the school property tax that’s imposed in the state of Texas, so that people can genuinely own their own home without being taxed out of it.”
Abbott has yet to provide specific details about his plan for eliminating the locally assessed tax on property for funding public school operating budgets, and Texans are waiting to learn whether this issue will be among the emergency legislative priorities announced during his upcoming state of the state address.
In his op-ed, Huffines argues that lawmakers should transfer the financial obligation for funding public schools from local property owners to the state, thereby eliminating property taxes for school maintenance and operations (M&O).
He believes this process could be completed within 8 to 10 years if the Legislature does three things:
- Limit the growth of state government to about 2.5 percent annually
- Dedicate 90 percent of the current and future state budget surpluses to “buying down” school M&O property taxes
- Restrict school districts from raising property taxes further
The op-ed is a summary of a plan described in a paper published by the Huffines Liberty Foundation, a research institute founded to continue advancing the ideas Huffines promoted during his gubernatorial campaign.
In an interview with Texas Scorecard, Huffines said that these three actions would put school M&O property taxes “on a glide path to zero.”
According to the Foundation, the average annual rate of growth for appropriations of state revenue over the last 11 years is 5.12 percent. If lawmakers reduce this rate of growth, they would have excess revenue to put towards public education. Texas public schools currently receive about 45 percent of their funding from the state, but if the state assumed full responsibility for this expense, school M&O property taxes could be eliminated.
Aiming to capitalize on the opportunity presented by a “historic” budget surplus, several lawmakers have already filed bills that would implement a version of this plan.
The current budget surplus sits at $32.7 billion, and Abbott said during his inauguration address that he wants to “pass the largest property tax cut in Texas history,” which he’s previously characterized as at least half of this amount.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan have been much more reserved in their prescriptions for the surplus, suggesting that allocating more than $12.5 billion to property tax relief would exceed the state’s constitutional spending limit.
The state’s Legislative Budget Board—a permanent joint committee led by the lieutenant governor and House speaker that provides fiscal recommendations to legislators—has set the constitutional spending limit for general appropriations at $114.1 billion, or 12.33 percent more than the $101.6 billion in the 2022-23 budget.
Huffines admits that “it would be dangerous from a conservative perspective to bust the spending cap for more spending,” but he says “it is disingenuous to play on conservatives’ fears by pretending that property tax cuts are equivalent to state spending.”
“Instead of all these shenanigans,” Huffines continues, “Texas politicians must realize that reducing property taxes is actually very simple. The key to doing so? Stop the growth of government spending in Texas.”
If school M&O property taxes were eliminated, Texans would save about 43 percent every year on their property tax bills. As Texas Scorecard recently reported, countless taxpayers are demanding this relief.
Huffines argues that previous attempts to cut property taxes have provided only temporary relief—if any at all—because local governments and state lawmakers have failed to rein in spending.
“It’s all about government spending,” he explained. “You can cut property taxes all you want, but if you don’t cut spending, it’s not going to matter.”
Citizens can use the Texas Scorecard Elected Officials Directory to contact their state legislators and ask where they stand on this issue.