Earlier this month, I testified in Austin about our property taxes with state legislators. Let me assure you that Chicken Little is alive and well in the halls of our state capitol. They have convinced most everyone that Texas is one of the most taxed states in the country, that property taxes are skyrocketing out of control and seniors are being taxed out of their homes.
Before you get too worked up, hear me out. According to the Tax Policy Center, in 2016, Texas ranked 37th in state and local tax revenue as a percentage of personal income. In other words, 36 states collect more state and local taxes than Texas. These taxes are primarily property and sales taxes. We have avoided the dreaded PIT (Personal Income Tax) and I hope we always do.
But wait, property taxes are skyrocketing aren’t they? Maybe not… You hear about huge percentage increases over the past ten years, or rhetoric about the large increase in dollars raised by local governments. But remember, we don’t pay our bills in percentages, we pay them in dollars. Also, remember that over the last ten years many more people have moved to Texas. So maybe it would be better to look at the increases in dollars per person instead of those misleading percentages or total dollar increases. When we do this, it paints a very different, and I think more accurate, picture. For example, from 2007 until 2017, across the state, average property taxes on a per person basis have increased less than two dollars per week for counties, less than three dollars per week for cities, and seven dollars per week for schools. Now we all know over 50% of our property tax bill comes from the schools. And the biggest increase in our property tax bill is a result of the state’s funding formula which continues to reduce their share of school funding even though it is their constitutional obligation to provide our children with a free public education. While testifying this month, the Senators were quick to point to the 13-0 vote by the School Finance Commission to increase public school funding. If the state pays an equal share of total school funding, it should lead to a significant school property tax reduction for you and I as well as eliminate Robin Hood. Another way to drive down property taxes for cities and counties would be to stop future AND PAST unfunded mandates. Saying they will prohibit these is great, in fact the House passed this very bill last session, but it wasn’t even considered in the Senate. So instead of rushing to fix a problem which doesn’t exist, they should first show us they can fix ones that do!
Finally, let’s address the point of our seniors being taxed out of their homes. I certainly understand most retired folks are on a fixed income and often get little if any cost of living adjustments. To the legislature’s credit, they instituted a system which allows seniors to defer their property taxes. You can go to the Comptroller’s website and find form 50-126 which allows folks who are disabled or 65 and older to defer payment of all their property taxes.
So please call your legislators and tell them to focus on the statewide problems of public education and unfunded mandates and stop trying to restrict local governments from providing quality of life services such as police, fire, libraries, parks, roads and senior services. I really hope the legislature will work with us on property tax relief.
Tarrant County Judge