Toward the end of the regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature in 2019, some of Texas’ top politicians couldn’t help but congratulate themselves on the success of their efforts to deliver property tax relief.
“We are making tremendous strides in bringing much-needed relief to Texas homeowners and businesses,” said Governor Greg Abbott in a press release. “Our goal was not simply to mask the problem of skyrocketing property taxes, but to make transformative changes that would bring about meaningful and lasting reform.”
Not to be outdone, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick boosted football, the San Antonio Express News reported: “We said we were on the five-yard line about a month ago. Now we have one touchdown, we have had the Super Bowl of legislative sessions in state history.
What was all the buzz was that Abbott, Patrick and former Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen had pushed a plan through the Legislature that he said would solve the biggest problems in the Texas by increasing education spending by $4.5 billion and allocating $5 billion to reduce property taxes. invoices.
However, recent property tax data from the Texas Comptroller of the Public Accounts shows that Texans got a bad return on the $9.5 billion in increased spending. Texans haven’t seen transformative change or huge progress. Instead, property taxes continued to rise.
Texans’ 2021 property tax bill of $73.2 billion, due Jan. 31, is $9.4 billion higher than what they paid in January 2019, months before Assembly legislation adopts its property tax “relief” plan. School property taxes, the center of the plan, have increased by $4.3 billion over the same period.
It is true that the rate of increase has slowed down a bit, from 5.9% per year to 4.7%. School taxes slowed the most. But cities have actually increased their rate of growth, taking advantage of legislative loopholes in allowable increases bypassing voters.
The end result is that property taxes continued to rise, but about $2.5 billion less than they otherwise would have. Not a very good return for taxpayers on their $9.5 billion investment in public education.
However, everyone posed as bandits. Schools have received more than $18 billion in additional state funding and property tax revenue over the past three years. Cities garnered $4.3 billion in additional property tax revenue; counties an additional $3.7 billion. Even special purpose districts saw their revenue increase by $2.8 billion. The total increase in local government take – paid for by taxpayers – is about $28.8 billion.
In 1997, Governor George W. Bush and the Texas Legislature made an effort to reduce property taxes; instead, property taxes increased by $1.4 billion. In 2006, the legislature again promised relief; yet, in exchange for sending an additional $14 billion of their state taxes to public schools over a two-year period, Texans paid an additional $3.4 billion in local property taxes. And in 2015, the Legislative Assembly’s attempt to reduce property taxes by increasing the homestead exemption resulted in taxpayers paying an additional $3.9 billion.
When legislative leaders announced they had reached the 2019 property tax relief deal, Abbott assured Texans they had finally solved the problem. “I said we would do what no one thought possible: we will finally fix the problem of school finances in Texas. And today I am proud to tell you that we are announcing that we have done just that,” reported the Texas Tribune.
The lesson that Texas leaders haven’t learned over the past 25 years is that you can’t fix school finances by throwing more taxpayer money into public schools. Texas policymakers have failed time and time again to fix school funding and cut property taxes for the simple reason that they won’t stop spending our money.
If Texans are serious about cutting taxes (which is a big if, considering who they keep electing), they’ll have to demand that the Texas Legislature cut spending, or at least stop spending growth. Otherwise, we’ll have more of the same for years to come.
Bill Peacock is vice president of research for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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