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 San Marcos, for example.
Last year, the city announced that, as part of its push to rebrand itself around mermaids, councilmembers had approved spending “$55,070 toward the erection of 10 mermaid statutes.” The rationale for these 10 7-ft. monuments to waste is, according to The University Star: “Identity is important, and donning the mantle of the mermaid city will do nothing but help the city secure sustainability and brand image into the near future. Its step one into a complete urban redesign that will create a more economically stable city”.
It’s anyone’s guess whether sprinkling these mermaid statutes around town will boost tourism, but what is known for sure is that the city of San Marcos spends too much money.
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.