Revenue cap would threaten public safety, job creation and roads

Published 8:39 am Thursday, December 1, 2016

Special to The Leader


AUSTIN – The Texas Municipal League today denounced a state Senate committee’s recommendation to restrict city budgets as “a direct assault on public safety, economic development and transportation that will produce no noticeable tax reduction for homeowners.”

The committee, appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and chaired by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), has recommended placing a state-imposed cap on the property tax revenue of every city and county that could only be exceeded by holding an election.

“The largest budget item for every city in Texas is public safety – police, fire fighting and emergency medical services,” said Bennett Sandlin, Executive Director of the Texas Municipal League.  “Politicians can’t proclaim their support for first responders and then turn around and vote to restrict the funding that pays for the salaries, equipment, vehicles, health insurance and pensions of the men and women who protect our communities.”

Also, among the first items to be cut from city budgets would be economic development incentives and city funding for state highway projects leading to fewer jobs and more traffic congestion in the future, Sandlin said.

“Their statewide cap on city budgets would not produce meaningful tax relief.  Hypothetically, under their proposal, some average homeowners in some cities in some future year might possibly have the increase in their property tax bill reduced by $2 or $3 per month.  What’s more, elderly and disabled homeowners would have the smallest hypothetical tax savings because of the exemptions they currently receive.  Any legislator who tries to convince Texans that is real tax relief will look foolish.”

“Cities are not the cause of high property taxes in Texas.”  Sandlin said.  “Cities get only 16 percent of the property taxes paid by Texans while 55 percent is levied by school districts.  Legislators don’t want to deal with the real cause of high property taxes – the school finance system – because the legislature depends on rising school property taxes to balance the state budget.  Under the “Robin Hood” funding scheme, 230 school districts are forced to send part of their property taxes to the state treasury this year.”

Sandlin also accused the Senate committee of misleading Texans about city property taxes by making deceptive “apples-to-oranges” comparisons with household income while ignoring the fact city property tax collections increased at less than half the rate of state taxes from 2009 to 2014.

“Locally elected officials are accountable to voters for taxing and spending decisions every time they run for election.  Politicians in Austin should not impose arbitrary and punitive state restrictions on the ability of locally elected city officials to budget for the needs of their communities, especially when the safety of our citizens is at stake,” Sandlin said.