Yesterday Governor Greg Abbott announced his “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” proposal at a meeting of the Kingwood Tea Party. In response, many grassroots activists reported being underwhelmed after reviewing the plan claiming to put Texas on a path to reduce property taxes and local debt.
So what does the proposal actually claim and purport to want to accomplish? Here is our breakdown of the proposal released yesterday:
Reduce School Property Tax Rates
Abbott claims that under his leadership, Texas has spent $18 billion reducing property taxes since 2015. The problem with that claim is that property tax collections themselves have increased 19% in that same time period. It is likely that what Abbott is referring to is the omnibus education funding bill that was passed in 2019 which reduced the percentage that local governments could raise your property taxes to that of 2.5% before having to get voter approval via an election for anything above that percentage. At issue is that limiting growth from 8% to 2.5% is not “reducing taxes”, it is merely limiting the growth rate.
Texans for Fiscal Responsibility (TFR) has not yet had one taxpayer report to us that their property tax bill has been reduced. In fact, we consistently hear the contrary, from Texans that are continuing to struggle to pay the increasing amount owed and are effectively being taxed out of their homes. This is primarily due to both the Texas legislature and Governor Abbott’s refusal to provide any meaningful relief. TFR’s position has been consistent and we believe that perpetual property taxes are immoral and should be eliminated completely.
Empower Homeowners and Property Owners to Reduce Their Taxes
This section has 4 provisions:
1) A 3% discount if taxes are paid in full by Jan. 31
The problem with this provision is that almost no one can afford to do this with property taxes at their current level. Many elderly Texans on fixed incomes have been forced out of their homes already due to their inability to afford the payments. These folks would not be able to qualify for this, and even if they do, a mere 3% is a lousy and gimmicky discount. The vast majority of Texans roll their taxes into mortgage payments and it is unclear whether this would qualify for the discount proposed. Either way, they are still paying taxes on an ever-growing burden.
2) A reduction in taxes if the purchase price is lower than the appraised value
Although appraisals are out of control and have helped inflate home prices themselves, the newest trend increasing home prices is that of Texas transplants who are purchasing property over their listed values making this a moot point. Many Texans have recently been priced out of the market by Californians and other transplants who are fleeing their states and in turn inflating Texas home values. This contributes to a newer phenomenon that home purchase prices are typically higher than appraised values. For most Texans in hot real estate markets, this provision would not provide any relief.
3) Easier more transparent protests
This provision TFR just simply disagrees with. A more transparent appraisal process does nothing to help reduce property taxes. The appraisal protest process is a major inconvenience for most homeowners and claiming you will make the process more transparent does not ultimately help to reduce property taxes themselves. TFR believes that by eliminating the property tax we can eliminate the appraisal process altogether, or at the bare minimum have one appraisal at the time of purchase.
4) $100,000 exemption for small business equipment
Although this is a well-intentioned reform that might be helpful to some small businesses, it will not help to lower the tax bills of most working-class Texans who are overburdened with property taxes on their homestead right now.
Local Government Debt
Requiring local debt to be passed by a 2/3 majority would ultimately not change much, considering that the most populous local governments in Texas are run completely by elected officials who support increases in government spending. Their tax and spend policies typically pass with overwhelming majorities and they will continue to pass debt obligation proposals without problems, even if this provision were implemented.
A truly conservative and fiscally responsible state government would tie the hands of local governments and not allow for any additional debt until the concerning and ever-increasing debt obligations they currently have are addressed. Texas ranks among the highest in the country of states that have extremely concerning local debt obligations.
TFR’s Final Thoughts
These types of policy suggestions are more of the same old ‘dog and pony show’. This is not the first time Abbott released a Taxpayer Bill of Rights proposal and taxation has only gotten worse since 2015. Claiming that you have reduced property taxes when not one Texan’s property tax bill has gone down is deceptive and all the majority of taxpayers in Texas have to do to refute this claim is look at their rising tax bills. Texas taxpayers have been begging for property tax elimination for years. It is a plank in the Republican Party of Texas’ own platform, a party of which Abbott is a member, and that currently controls all levers of state government including the legislature.
It is not good enough to throw Texans a bone and continue to force them to rent their property from the government and yet, that is precisely what Texans have been doing for decades. Paying the government perpetual rent is immoral and it is unsustainable for many on fixed incomes. TFR has called for the complete elimination of the property tax and we have had a realistic plan to do that for almost a year. Texans want their bills to actually go down, not more empty promises and gimmicks from elected officials. If this is what Abbott plans on doing, should he be reelected, it is likely most Texans will need to prepare for more of the status quo, property taxes that continue to grow while politicians pay lip service to the problem.