New Property Tax Bill, Same Fuzzy Math

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This post was updated on July 31, 2017.

The Senate last week passed Senate Bill 1 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a dangerous bill that would limit the ability of local governments to raise the revenue needed to pay police officers, firefighters and other first responders.

This was a bad idea during the regular session (when it was SB 2) and is still a bad idea during the special session.

How would it work? Under current law, local governments can choose to increase their property-tax revenue (not including taxes from new construction) by up to eight percent a year. This can happen, for example, in response to demands by residents for better or expanded services. If local leaders propose a tax increase larger than eight percent, then voters may petition for a “rollback election” that would “roll back” the proposed tax increase to the eight percent limit. SB 1 would cut the cap in half to four percent and require a special election.

The House Ways & Means Committee has voted out a similar bill, HB 4, which would require an election for an increase in property taxes greater than six percent. The full House is expected to consider this bill this week.

SB 1 would limit the ability of local governments to raise the revenue needed to pay police officers, firefighters, and other first responders (Photo by Elvert Barnes).

The Dallas Morning News and others have thoroughly debunked the fuzzy math that Senator Bettencourt and others have been using to justify their plan. But that hasn’t stopped zealots at the Capitol from using the faulty numbers anyway.

In touting SB 1, Senator Bettencourt has repeated his previously debunked fuzzy math and introduced some new fuzzy math. He talks about rising “property tax bills” but examination of the data shows that property taxes are growing only at the same rate as personal income, not outstripping homeowners’ ability to pay.

If legislators really want to lower property taxes, they should remodel our outdated school finance system and commit the state to its fair share of investing in our children’s future.

Facts matter, now more than ever. Yes, property taxes can put a strain on Texans. But this Senate bill will not reduce property taxes, as House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dennis Bonnen has pointed out.

Instead the dangerous proposal put forward by SB 1 and HB4 would interfere in local decisions and hamstring the ability of Texas’ cities and counties to address the changing needs of their residents.

Let’s stop bringing back bad ideas at the Capitol and instead come together to make meaningful progress on funding public education.

CPPP will work city and county leaders, allies and other concerned Texans to protect communities’ ability to pay for critical services that we all need.

Dick Lavine focuses on state and local revenue issues. Before coming to the Center in 1994, he was a Senior Researcher at the House Research Organization of the Texas House of Representatives for ten years. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Travis Central Appraisal District, and a member of the Executive Board of AFSCME Texas Retirees, the statewide union local of retired public employees. The Equity Center named him the 2011 Champion for Equity for his work to reform our tax system to ensure it can adequately support public education and other public services. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, magna cum laude, from Harvard College in 1969, and a Doctor of Jurisprudence, cum laude, from the University of Pennsylvania in 1975.

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