The ornaments are packed away. The mailbox is filling up. The season of giving has passed into the season of paying what you owe, and just as that credit card statement is on its way from Christmas so too is the next property tax bill beginning to take shape.
Tax relief promised by the Texas Legislature (and approved by voters in November) will help, but there is a countervailing force exerting upward pressure on tax bills too. The culprit in this case comes in the form of over-taxing from local governments. According to a recent study on Property Taxes, in some of the largest cities, counties, and ISDs in Texas, the total taxes levied have majorly outpaced the rate of inflation and population growth.
Taxes are, of course, necessary in the city to provide services like police, fire protection, schools, and road maintenance, and it is inevitable that when a city grows, services must reach a wider geographic area and serve more citizens. However, there is a clear disconnect between how much property taxes should be increasing and how much they have been.
As a rule of thumb if property taxes do increase, they should rise within the range of the increase in the population along with the increase in inflation. This limit allows for a reasonable increase in property tax to meet the needs of any new population while also addressing the reality of inflation. From 2013 to 2022, the population and inflation rate increased by 39%, but in that same period the average property tax burden increased nearly 76%. While it would be improper to say that the property tax levied being higher than the growth rate and the increase in inflation means that Tammany Hall-levels of graft is occurring, it should serve as a sign that taxpayers are being bilked for more money than is necessary.
Fear not, for there is good news for all of the people. There are ways of slowing the rate of property tax increases and placing the power back into the hands of the people:
- Transparency can be expanded by using plain language on ballots propositions that will increase debt, which will lead to higher property taxes.
- Cutting budgets by eliminating taxpayer funded lobbying, which costs the taxpayers both in the salary of the lobbyists hired using public funds and the progressive projects that drain the coffers of the community, and work against Texan principles.
- Limiting local government spending by statute. The state itself has constitutional and statutory spending limits that help keep the budget balanced, and that even led to a historic surplus in 2023.
Starting the new year means a lot of things for different people. For some it’s an opportunity to make resolutions to build better habits. This is the resolution that local governments should make: Taking responsibility for the way they collect taxes and spend the people’s money will result in a Happy New Year for every Texan.
While it feels like the New Year ushers in a restart of sorts, we are, in fact, closer to the beginning of the damp, dark, and cold months of winter than its end. And while we feel like our big-spending items like Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas presents, or celebrating New Year’s Eve have reset, we also have reality of that which must be rendered unto Caesar.