Commentary: Curb property taxes by cutting spending

By February 28, 2023Uncategorized

Here is something Republicans and Democrats can agree upon: property taxes across Bexar County and throughout Texas are too high.

In the last month, most of us received in our mailboxes those notices from the Bexar Appraisal District we were dreading. If you are like me, before you even opened the envelope you thought to yourself, “I wonder how much my property taxes are going up this year?”

Yes, let’s recognize property taxes in Texas fund essential government services, especially public education. For elected Republicans, whose primary goals should be to improve Texans’ economic position, ensure public safety and properly educate our children, funding public education should be a must. As Texas does not impose state or local income taxes (for which we can be grateful), property taxes fund our schools and other local services. While we might understand how our tax money is being used, the amount of property taxes the average Texan pays is simply too much and keeps going up. What can be done?

In the near term, I would be remiss if I didn’t point to Propositions 1 and 2 on the May 7 ballot. Bipartisan lawmakers passed these last year, and both are worth supporting — Election Day is Saturday. Proposition 1 would allow the Legislature to provide additional property tax relief for those 65 and older or disabled homeowners, even if they have already filed the form to freeze their school district property taxes. Proposition 2 would raise the homestead exemption on school district property taxes from $25,000 to $40,000. So, while these propositions may not directly impact your coming tax bill in a major way, they would be a step to stem the tide of rising property taxes.

But to better address the problem, Republicans should remember the core economic principle that we have championed for decades: Cut spending and keep tax rates low. Simply put, your property taxes wouldn’t rise every year if it weren’t for local jurisdictions wanting to spend more money. Yes, the appraisal process, including the protest system, is opaque, complicated, can be expensive and almost always results in the maximum 10 percent property value increase on an annual basis. But if local governments would reduce spending, they could reduce tax rates and save Bexar County residents on their property taxes. Right now, your 2022 tax bill is zero, as it won’t be until August and September when our local entities set their respective tax rates. So, if you think your property taxes are too high, contact these local entities and ask for tax rate cuts, tell them to conserve money rather than spend it, and remind them that you vote.

Additionally, let’s not forget about Texas businesses.

One factor that adds to prices consumers pay, and to appraisals for businesses, is the property tax a business pays on the personal property it uses in its operations. Recently Gov. Greg Abbott put forth a proposal that would exempt up to $100,000 of a business’ property, meaning a substantial portion of a small business’ equipment would not be taxable. We need more ideas like this coming out of Austin.

The state could take on more responsibility paying for public education if it had more non-property tax revenue. Republicans should be looking for ways to bring money into the state without raising taxes or creating new taxes. It’s easy to say “just abolish property taxes,” as some did during the March primary elections. But we won’t get there unless we find a way to bring other revenue sources into Texas. Continuing to create a business-friendly environment, and expanding the tax base with new businesses and more jobs, can help provide the revenue necessary to reduce or replace property taxes.

A state income tax is not the answer. Nor is expanding government programs as some on the left are suggesting. It’s fiscally sound principles, thorough reviews of government spending, private sector business and job creation, and innovative solutions that are the way to property tax reform.

Marc Whyte is an attorney and the San Antonio zoning commissioner for District 10. Email:

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