Texas taxpayers have little say in how much a large portion of their property taxes increase. To the surprise of no one, local governments such as cities and counties would prefer to keep it that way. Even worse, local governments are spending taxpayer money to fight against reform.
As property values rise, most local officials do not lower tax rates, resulting in higher tax bills. Reforms that would require these tax-hiking entities to hold a “tax ratification election” (TRE) would signal to Texans who is responsible for higher taxes. Unsurprisingly, this reform is not popular among local officials.
Additionally, efforts to empower voters are fiercely opposed by government lobby organizations, such as the Texas Municipal League (TML) and the Texas Association of Counties (TAC). TML even boasts on their website about how they rank first in “power” among public sector lobbying groups.
All government lobby groups are funded with taxpayer money and – according to their own documents – exist solely to represent their own interests, and that of local politicians. TML’s board includes the heads of public sector unions, and other affiliate union members, who happily join in the fight against taxpayers.
Sadly, taxpayers are literally forced to fund their own political opposition.
A recent committee hearing exchange between State Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano) and TML’s executive director revealed the extent to which these governments feel entitled to an endless supply of taxpayer money. But TML’s anti-taxpayer agenda should come as no surprise. Their published platform says they will oppose any effort to “diminish [city] revenue,” which would include requirements that voter approval be obtained for tax-hiking cities.
Our current tax system is hopelessly complex. Each property tax bill is really the combined bill of four to seven (or more) separate taxing entities. See the below tax bill from a home in Irving, a suburb near Dallas.
Each entity has its own elected board, which adopts a budget, tax rate and holds debt-issuing authority. But unlike school taxes – which make up roughly half of the average Texans tax bill – cities, counties, community colleges, and hospital districts are not required to obtain voter approval to raise taxes. Not unless citizens first gather a large number of petition signatures to force a public vote on the increase.
That’s significant, considering hospital and college districts – and the property taxes they levy – are often larger than the county governments that created them.
The primary motivation for local officials to join TML in opposing tax reform is quite simple: those responsible for raising taxes do not want to be held accountable. As evidenced by the above example, our tax system is difficult to deconstruct. This complexity makes it arduous for Texans to know who specifically in government is responsible for their skyrocketing tax bill.
Republican lawmakers have a simple choice on tax reform—either side with Gov. Abbott and taxpayers, or local officials and their government lobbyists.