Are We The Spending Party Or The Party Of Fiscal Restraint? A Debate Between Republicans
We are a party with diverse opinions. At a recent Austin conference of the Texas Taxpayer and Research Association (TTARA), Senator Paul Bettencourt continued to champion fiscal conservative standards against bigger-government advocates within our own Republican party. It was three to one and the "Taxman" won the debate. Speaker Straus (R-San Antonio), Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, and House Ways & Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) see things differently and continue calls for higher taxes under the guise of fiscal responsibility (see more in the Houston Chronicle at http://bit.ly/2iZU79H). Although Judge Emmett is also pushing for additional needed funding for flood control where consensus is emerging, taxpayers know better about rising property taxes.
According to Senator Bettencourt the premise is simple: As appraised values increase; taxing entities should lower their property tax rates. Harris County has held their overall property tax rate the same, and the result is that Harris County collected over $400 million more, or a 36% increase, in property tax revenue from 2013 to 2016, not even counting 2017 increases. Since Harris County, led by Judge Emmett, has not voted to lower their property tax rate in this time, the average Harris County home has endured a 36.4% increase on the county portion of their property tax bill. This is unsustainable for taxpayers and far above the rate of personal income growth. In contrast, Democratic run Travis County Commissioner's Court offers an example of how this can work. Between 2013 and 2016 they voted to lower their property tax rate by roughly $0.11, or 22%. This means that an average home in Travis County actually saw a slight reduction on the county portion of their property tax bill, despite appraisals increasing.
This trend is repeating itself all across the state, for example, Dallas, Bexar, and Tarrant County have seen 25.5%, 24.3% and 19.1% property tax bill increases respectively for the average home in the same time period.
In regards to the Special Session, Chairman Bonnen had the audacity to argue that the Senate was to blame for the failure of the Texas Property Tax Reform and Relief Act, authored by Senator Bettencourt. What the Chairman left out was the fact that he refused to take any floor amendments to the legislation. Additionally, his "boss", Speaker Straus, refused to appoint a conference committee to discuss the legislation with the Senate, (so none took place) and then decided to adjourn the House a day early, effectively ending any chance of property tax reform and relief in 2017.
Speaker Straus has opted to retire, which removes one major impediment to property tax reform in Texas. If you want it, it will be up to the Republican primary voters in 2018 to vote for property tax reform measures and candidates that support them on the Republican primary ballot.