timberland down jacket Abbott’s property tax plan
Here at Property Tax Central, The Watchdog reads Gov. Greg Abbott’s property tax proposals. I expect them to be as boring and unmemorable as Abbott himself.
I’ve watched him for 16 years, since he became Texas attorney general in 2002. I confidently say that Abbott is smart and successful, but he’s not a risk taker. He’s rarely the first to say or do anything that puts his own neck on the line. He’s almost never surprising.
At least, in this one proposal, he’s all of the above. Oh, and I realize this is an election year ploy by a candidate to play to voters’ top concerns. But I’m judging this proposal on the basis of Abbott’s past plodding career. His is an attack upon Texas’ entire local government culture. It’s I daresay radical.
Wow No. 1
Property taxes for many homeowners are going up the maximum 10 percent a year. Abbott proposes that local governments city, county, hospital, college and school district be allowed to jump only 2.5 percent in budget growth each year. Anything above that must go to the voters.
This floors me. 2.5 percent is a pittance in the government world.
Last year, the state Senate approved a 4 percent cap; the House wanted 6 percent. They couldn’t agree. Abbott easily could have played it safe with 4, 5 or 6 percent. But he drops it to 2.5 percent, sure to incite government officials everywhere in mass protest.
And that’s what is happening. The reaction among elected officials is mostly, “How dare he? Let us do our job.”
Abbott spokesman John Wittman said,
“The only cynical reaction you are hearing is from bureaucrats who will have to learn to live within their means.”
This is war.
Wow No. 2
Governments could break the 2.5 percent mark for pay increases for public safety officers and teachers and work on roads and bridges. But elected officials first must approve the shattering of the cap by a two thirds super majority on their board. Then voters would have to approve the jump by that same 67 percent.
You know what? Needing 67 percent of voters to approve a tax increase is the kiss of death. Who gets 67 percent in any election, let alone for a tax increase?
Abbott is playing hardball.
Wow No. 3
As if that’s not enough, Abbott wants a voter’s ballot in a bond election to list the government’s outstanding debt and payment costs and show the proposed debt, its costs and how the borrowed money would be used. Another kiss of death.
Wow No. 4
Abbott attacks the status quo. He’s clear in his condemnation of property taxes as “remnants of an antiquated system of taxation that was necessitated because wealth tied directly to the land: farming and ranching primarily.”
The governor calls the current system “outdated” and says it has left us with a “costly bureaucracy” running “a highly inefficient form of taxation.”
Wow No. 5
Still not impressed that Abbott is stepping out of his safety zone? Here, in full, is how he attacks one of the most worshipped spending institutions in Texas lore.
“Restraining the growth of local debt, then, is key to reducing property tax burdens. In the last decade alone, at least a dozen school districts have constructed football stadiums costing tens of millions of dollars each, $500 million has been spent on indoor practice facilities, and average cost of a high school football stadium has quadrupled.”
Wow No. 6
He attacks school district staffing increases, especially those with top heavy administrations. The governor notes that there are 688,000 school employees in Texas. “It would be one thing if the vast majority of Texas public school employees were classroom teachers,” he says. But “only half are teachers.” Administrators are paid more than teachers, he adds.