Covering assets, local officials bash property tax relief
By Kenric Ward - Guest Column
March 19, 2017 at 10:57 p.m.
Updated March 20, 2017 at 6 a.m.
If tweets were votes, property tax relief would be dead at the Texas Legislature and Texans would be saddled with even bigger bills.
City and county officials paraded before the Senate Finance Committee on March 14 to bash Senate Bill 2 like a sad piñata. Reducing increases in property tax revenues to 4 percent annually spells fiscal disaster, they warned.
Online, special-interest groups filled the Twittersphere with sob stories, scary scenarios and misdirection plays:
• "The cost of recording open meetings is up 199.7 percent since 2011" - Texas Association of Counties.
• "SAPD Chief (William) McManus says any legislation that caps a city's revenue will be a death blow to public safety" - Texas Municipal League.
• "Fix school finance first" - multiple tweets.
Local officials had all day - at taxpayer expense, of course - to spend in the committee hearing that dragged into the night. Beleaguered citizens who work for a living were vastly outnumbered by their "public servants," in person and on Twitter.
An overweening sense of entitlement was on display. Sen. Paul Bettencourt's bill to halve the current 8 percent threshold was branded as misguided or worse by an orchestrated tweet storm from special pleaders. Cities marched out police and fire unions to raise the threat level.
Never mind that Texas school districts work under a 4 percent formula. City and county officials soft-pedaled the fact that local governments can exceed the misnamed "cap" by putting higher levies to a vote of the citizens - as schools do. The just-say-no crowd glossed over SB2's exemption of new construction that allows growth to pay its way.
The municipal smokescreen is the desperation of "local control." Or, as Sen. Donna Campbell put it, local tyranny.
Pleading imminent poverty under SB2, government officials asserted that taxpayers would receive only token savings from Bettencourt's measure. So is the sky falling or not? Can SB2 be an existential threat to localities but mere chump change to taxpayers?
Bettencourt isn't buying the local calculations. Voters shouldn't either.
While raking in record revenues that more than double the gains in average personal income and population growth, local governments - especially Texas' biggest cities - have piled up massive debt loads to feed their ever-expanding bureaucracies and edifice complexes. Balancing budgets clearly is not in their skill set.
Local officials insist that SB2 will necessitate severe budget cuts. Texas lawmakers should call that bluff and send SB2 to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature.
If cities and counties want to put core services on the chopping block ahead of salaries and questionable pet projects, they'll prove their utter contempt for the public they purport to serve.
If SB2's modest and commonsense reforms can't pass the Legislature this year, state lawmakers will prove there's not a dime's worth of difference between them and local politicians.
The Senate Finance Committee approved SB2 on a 9-5 vote at 11:30 p.m. March 14.