Texas’ property tax burden is enormous. In 2015, more than 4,100 local taxing entities soaked taxpayers for $52.2 billion in property taxes. That’s enough to ding every man, woman, and child in Texas for $1,900 or cost a family of four about $8,000.
Most agree that the burden is too high, but attempts at easing the swell were stymied last session due, in part, to criticism that giving voters a voice in the process would harm cities’ ability to pay for basic services, like police, fire and EMS.
Let’s be clear: claiming that property tax reform will harm public safety is a scare tactic and a bad one at that—especially considering how many silly examples of local government waste there are. Take the city of Austin, for example.
Earlier this year, the Austin American-Statesman reported that the city of Austin was launching a new government program “to embed an artist in various city departments, aiming to bring a creative eye to city problems”. This new pilot program is expected to cost taxpayers about $15,000 to start and could be expanded if city council deems it a success. Funding for the program will be pulled from the city’s general fund.
And what do taxpayers get for their money? No one knows. “We are not requiring a discrete work of art to be produced. The idea is to introduce to the department the eye of an artist, because they think outside of the box,” according to a city spokeswoman.
This small-but-telling example of government waste is indicative of a much bigger problem locally—an absence of priorities. And that problem is only being enabled by a broken property tax system that offers no real protection for homeowners and businesses. At least not yet.
Putting reasonable restraints on the growth of Texas’ property tax will not harm public safety, but it may force local governments to better prioritize their budgets and stop spending like drunken sailors. And that’s something we should all support.