Happy New Year. Now pay up.
Gov. Greg Abbott boasts that “Texas rightfully led the nation in cutting taxes.” Too bad local governments and schools didn’t get the memo.
Across the Lone Star State, property taxes are climbing at a record-breaking pace. With the Jan. 31 payment deadline approaching, Bexar County and the city of San Antonio offer five reasons why:
NUMBERS RACKET: Market experts agree that the real-estate market is soft. But the Bexar County Appraiser is positively bullish, pushing assessed values up 10.7 percent – far surpassing the average 4.4 percent increase of the previous year.
The double-digit hike — totally disconnected from the market — allows San Antonio to brag that it isn’t raising the tax rate. No need. Arbitrarily higher valuations enable the city, county and schools to collect millions more tax dollars from over-assessed taxpayers. Think homeowners can flip their houses for a 10.7 percent gain in one year? In a tanking oil economy? In one of the poorest big cities in Texas? Think again.
The state’s newly expanded homestead exemption is another joke. Unlike substantial residential tax discounts in Florida (which also has no state income tax), the Texas program affords about as much protection as a leaky canvas tent.
IN A BUBBLE: Floating along in their inflated real-estate bubble, local governments spend accordingly. San Antonio magnanimously raised its own minimum wage to $13 an hour (up from $11.47) and added 172 positions to push the city’s payroll to 11,922 employees. Meantime, San Antonio remains unable to fully staff its police force, which enjoys the second-highest compensation package in the state.
Are taxpayers getting what they pay for? A call to the city about a property-tax question elicited this response: “I don’t know nothing about that.”
BIGGER, NOT BETTER: City planners figure annexation is a moneymaker. City politicians are always eager to grow their sphere of influence. If aggressive expansion were such a good deal, San Antonio and its residents would be rich. They’re not.
Extending the city’s tax base means taking on additional long-term liabilities — more roads, sewers and infrastructure requiring evermore taxes to repair and maintain. Captured property owners (who have no say in the annexation decision) get hit with higher taxes to service $17 billion in municipal debt.
Amid the sprawling cities, downtowns hollow out. City Halls respond by ginning up more “affordable housing” subsidies for the inner core – another losing proposition that favors crony developers and pushes higher taxes onto everyone else.
HOBBY HORSES: Undaunted by steep logistical hurdles and pie-in-the-sky costs, San Antonio and Austin continue to throw money at the sputtering Lone Star Rail venture. A vision of urban planners and liberal elites everywhere, the commuter railroad got $449,500 in “staffing and consulting services,” courtesy of San Antonio taxpayers who have never been asked their opinion about the project.
In the spirit of the upcoming Martin Luther King Day holiday, San Antonio’s council earmarked $200,000 for festivities on the Eastside. City Hall dispensed $100,000 to two organizers bickering over turf. Can’t we all just get along and save some money?
DEMOCRAT MACHINES: It’s not only San Antonio’s party. Five other large Texas cities – Houston, Dallas, Corpus Christi, El Paso and Fort Worth – levy even higher property tax rates. The common denominator: All six are run by Democrats. Likewise, urban school districts – which consume roughly half of local tax collections — are tools of teacher unions, chief funders of the Democratic Party.
Cities and schools complain that the GOP-controlled state Legislature has them on a starvation diet. To which former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, retorts: “Our cities are turning Texas into California.”
With heavier tax bills to prove it, beleaguered Texans may ultimately opt for a California import: a Proposition 13-style property-tax rebellion
Kenric Ward reports for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected] and @Kenricward.