When Big Government Isn’t Quite Big Enough
At Wednesday’s hearing on property tax reform, the president of the Texas Municipal League (TML) strongly opposed any legislation aimed at limiting the tax-hiking power of cities. When State Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano) asked how much government is too much, TML’s spokeswoman was unable to answer.
With a calm but direct approach, Taylor restated the question:
“How much government is enough…how big does government have to be before you’re happy? Right now, forty-two cents of every American dollar [earned] goes to government, whether state, local, or federal. You know, when I was a little boy that was [about] twenty-nine cents. So, as a country, we’re going for more and more government. And the more government there is, the less freedom there is, right? How much [government] is enough in your mind. When are you going to be happy?”
Taylor struck at the heart Texas’ growing property tax crisis that’s choking low-income Texans the most. Government data shows property taxes are growing two to three times faster than median household income, a fact presented over and again at the hearing’s onset. The Tax Foundation has shown that Texas currently has the 14th most burdensome property tax system in the nation.
While the vast majority of Texas families have seen no increase in their real income, the cost of local government continues to skyrocket year after year, in large part, because very few local officials reduce tax rates enough to offset rising property values. And the recent increase in the homestead exemption only reduced the increase in school property taxes, rather than providing net relief.
Reformers want to empower voters with the option to approve or reject excessive tax hikes, a standard already applied to school taxes. After all, the Texans hit the hardest by growing tax bills are struggling businesses and low-income families. TML opposes this reform.
After Taylor’s continued prodding, TML’s president finally replied:
“Well I appreciate the question, sir. I very much believe in limited government.”
TML does not believe in limited government. But this wasn’t the only example of tired propaganda. TML has long opposed any reform that would limit the ability of cities to tax, or attempts to give taxpayers stronger accountability options. It’s clearly stated in their legislative agenda, and was reaffirmed during their testimony.
TML also relies on deception to fight reform. As State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and Taylor both reiterated, neither current law nor any reform proposal would actually limit what localities can tax, as TML falsely claims. Reforms would only require that local politicians obtain voter approval on excessive tax increases.
It’s beyond fair, considering local governments could still increase taxes just below the limit without voter approval, just as they do today.
When Taylor pressed TML’s position regarding voter consent, their spokeswoman claimed to support it. But such a position would be a complete reversal from their long-standing opposition. As recently as last session, they aggressively opposed legislation (SB182) that would require voter approval. In fact, no single reform proposed last session had more public opposition from local governments than voter empowerment.
Fortunately, the tax-hikers were outnumbered by concerned citizens at Wednesday’s hearing. But tax relief will not be enacted automatically. Texans need to ask their state and local representatives to move beyond campaign rhetoric and take action. With primary elections on the horizon, there is no better time for citizen-engagement.