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Property tax cuts proposed by House and Senate are Band-Aid solutions


Contact: Noah Betz; 281-928-2089

This commentary was originally published in The Houston Chronicle.

DALLAS, TX, April 28, 2023 — Take a moment to imagine the liberty and prosperity in Texas if we had the ability to actually own our property. Because in a way, we don’t. And this is the dirty secret about the Texas property tax. You never — ever — finish making payments on your property. 

Even after a family makes their final payment on a 30-year mortgage, their government housing “payments” continue — forever — in the form of property taxes. And unlike a standard mortgage, those payments can increase by an arbitrary amount every year.

If this comes as a surprise, it’s important to understand what Austin decides each legislative session has real-world ramifications in each of our lives — and those of future generations. Failure to pay attention to tax debates now, before they are settled in the state Legislature, leaves all Texas citizens vulnerable to the behind-the-scenes machinations of special interests and plain government stupidity. (As a former Texas state senator, I had the pleasure of witnessing both up close.)

Tax issues are all the more pressing because of the current Texas legislative fight between the House and Senate. Both promise something astounding: the largest property tax cut in our state’s history. Really? Don’t fall for it; they sing the same song every legislative session. Both policies treat the symptoms of a broken property tax system while failing to address the underlying disease: incessant growth in local government and school district spending.

The Senate is considering legislation designed to increase what’s called the homestead exemption. In the most basic terms, this concept was designed to lower the tax bill by a set amount on a homeowner’s primary dwelling. The trouble is, this tax break only benefits homeowners, and those who do experience relief will find it very short-lived due to skyrocketing appraisals. Increasing the homestead exemption has failed to stop property tax bills from rising in Texas and, I’d argue, is nothing but a political stunt.

Even though businesses, renters and landowners pay almost one half of property taxes, most will not experience relief under the Senate’s plan. What they are subjected to is higher property taxes, which reduce investments, depress worker pay, increase consumer prices and force ever-increasing rents for apartment dwellers (a growing percentage of Texans). It’s a cascading effect. Any policy that enslaves homeowning Texans to endless tax payments, while at the same time forcing renters and businesses to carry a burden from which they get no relief, should not pass.

The House plan, for its part, at least has the virtue of putting a 5 percent cap on appraisal increases for all properties. This policy applies to all taxpayers, including homeowners, businesses and renters. As things stand, many property owners can find their taxes doubling or more in a year. That is unconscionable and immoral.

So, for the moment, the House’s approach to property tax relief is the best way forward this legislative session. But it’s not the best approach, nor are the Senate or House plans economically feasible in the long run.

I believe there is only one way to solve this problem. History tells us that state revenue grows about 10 percent every two years. By capping state spending and buying down the tax rate with resulting future surpluses — in addition to taking advantage of our current massive state surplus — Texas would be on a path to permanently eliminating all or large portions of the property tax.