If you think your property taxes are bad, just wait until you’ve been assessed a $717,570 property tax liability for a container of frozen fish… that doesn’t exist. That’s the allegation made in a letter that crossed my desk. Sound fishy? Not to anyone who has dealt with local property taxes in Texas.

After getting copied on a letter detailing their plight, I spoke with the folks at Pacific Sunrise International, based outside Seattle, WA. Count them as one company that’s vowing to never do business in Texas again. So much for economic development.

According the company’s letter and their tax documents, Harris County mis-appraised a container of cod left in cold storage after a customer backed out of the deal. The county appraisal district originally said the container was valued at $717,570 — that’s some expensive cod. The real value was $70,560.

“[Y]our tax scheme caught us completely without any prior experience to aid us in the minefield that is Texas personal property tax,” the company’s assistant to the president writes in a June 2, 2010, letter. You can read the full letter and documentation here.

After numerous letters, the intercession of then-Comptroller Carole Strayhorn, re-assessment of the valuation in 2006, and several payments, the folks at Pacific Sunrise thought the deal was done. After all, the container and the cod were by then long-gone.

So imagine their surprise that La Porte, Texas, is still wanting more money. And how these out-of-state business owners are confused by the bewildering jargon of the state’s property tax laws.

The company writes, “why do you want us to pay still more taxes to LaPorte, Texas? And why, after 5 years, am I still forced to correspond with attorneys and taxing districts in Texas?”

Texas’ property tax system can be bewildering, and the rates — even when not over-stated by a factor of 10 — border on confiscatory. It’s time for the Legislature to reform the property tax system, making the appraisal districts accountable to the voters, and the taxing entities more transparent.

For the people at Pacific Sunrise, the container of cod they are being taxed on hasn’t existed for a half-decade. But for them, and all of us, the retched stench of an outdated tax system lingers in the economic air.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and an Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, and think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, a son-in-law, and a dog. Michael is the author of three books, including "Reflections on Life and Liberty."