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Op-Ed: More than Tax Relief, Texans Need Tax Reform

Editor’s Note: This Op-Ed was written and submitted to Breitbart Texas by James Quintero, director of the Center for Local Governance at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The Texas House and the Texas Senate haven’t yet come to an agreement on the best way to provide tax relief—but there’s a growing recognition in both chambers that tax reform is equally, if not more, important. Especially when it comes to property taxes.

Right now, homeowners and businesses pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation. According to the Tax Foundation’s latest national rankings, the Lone Star State has the 14th worst system for taxpayers, collecting the equivalent of nearly $1,600 for every man, woman, and child in the state.

For obvious reasons, Texans need some measure of relief from this onerous tax burden; but even more pressing is the need for state lawmakers to address the continued and relentless growth of local property taxes.

In spite of a major overhaul in 2006, local taxing jurisdictions increased Texans’ property tax burden by more than 101 percent from 2000 to 2013—well beyond population and inflation increases, which only grew a combined 70 percent. As many homeowners and businesses can tell you, the difference in these trends signals that property taxes are well on their way to being unaffordable.

Another analysis from the Texas Comptroller is equally instructive. The Comptroller’s report Your Money and the Taxing Facts suggests that from 1992 to 2010 local property taxes levied statewide soared by 188 percent, compared to population growth which rose just 40 percent. That’s a difference of almost 5-to-1, yet again signaling that taxpayers are getting absolutely pummeled.

It’s not a stretch to say that the current local property tax system is broken. Nor is it a stretch to suggest that without some sort of structural change—i.e. appraisal reform, revenue limitations, tax swaps, or some combination thereof—Texas’ property tax problem will only continue to metastasize.

Fortunately for anyone who owns a home or operates a business, there’s a budding consensus in both the House and the Senate that property tax reform is a must.

Several bills are making their way through the legislative process right now that would restructure or restrict local property tax growth in a big way. A handful of these bills are close to making it across the proverbial finish line. One bill in particular—Senate Bill 1760—has quite a bit of momentum and shows even more promise.

Senate Bill 1760—which has already made it through the Senate—proposes to make it harder for local governments to raise taxes by requiring 60 percent of the governing body of a local taxing jurisdiction to approve property tax increases. In other words, the bill sets the bar higher for taxing entities to raise property taxes.

Practically speaking, what this proposal means is that if you have a 7 member governing body, then instead of requiring 4 members to approve a tax hike, it will take 5 members. If you have a 9 member governing body, then it would require that 6 members approve a tax rate increase instead of 5 members. And so on.

If this particular proposal successfully makes it through the House and to the Governor’s desk, it’s expected to be one of the biggest property tax reforms passed in a long, long time.

In the past, efforts to bring about this sort of long-term structural change have been stymied by powerful special interest groups representing local governments who have an obvious interest in protecting their revenue cash cow. But the magnitude of Texas’ property tax problem has become so immense that not even these influential groups seem to be able to stop what’s coming.

Perhaps more so now than ever, Texas appears to be on the verge of long-lasting property tax reform which, as many can attest to, is long overdue and very much needed.

James Quintero is the director of the Center for Local Governance at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a non-profit, free-market research institute based in Austin. He may be reached at jquintero@texaspolicy.com.

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