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 when there is so much misspent locally. Take the issue of taxpayer-funded lobbying, for example.
According to the Watchdog, local governments spent a whopping $6.6 million in 2015 to lobby the legislature for policies that benefit it, but not necessarily its constituents. That’s a major problem because, as Senator Konni Burton noted: “Many taxpayers don’t even realize their own money is being used to pay lobbyists who are in Austin, advocating for policies that could be in direct conflict with their own beliefs.”
Who spent the most on lobbyists?
- The city of Austin: $812,500
- Houston: $630,000
- Harris County: $610,000
- Fort Worth: $427,500
- Tarrant Regional Water District: $392,500
- Houston Independent School District: $340,000
- North Texas Tollway Authority: $315,000
- Harris County Commissioners Court: $305,000
- San Antonio: $232,500
- Edinburg: $225,000
- Garland: $225,000
- Edinburg Economic Development Corp.: $225,000
- El Paso County: $225,000
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.