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Constable's Notebook - March 2005

During his “State of the State” address Governor Perry called on the Texas Legislature to enact a 3% annual cap on property appraisals. The currrent cap is 10%. Supporters of the 3% cap argue that property taxes are already too high and that city and county officials cannot be trusted to keep taxes low.

Property taxes are too high. They are too high in part because Texas relies more on property taxes than most other states to fund government. Twenty years ago the State provided more than 60% of funding for schools. State funding for schools has since dropped to about 40%, leaving local property tax payers to pick up the slack. State cuts in health care, mental health funding, alcohol and drug treatment, indigent defense, etc. have forced local governments to supplement these services or pay the costs for failing to do so.

According to the Texas Municipal League, the biggest winners under a 3% appraisal cap would be wealthier homeowners because wealthier neighborhoods tend to appreciate in value (by dollar amount and percentage) more than less affluent areas. Many poorer neighborhoods that never reach the cap would always pay taxes at 100% of their appraised value while wealthier homeowners that exceed the cap would pay less than 100% of their appraisal in taxes. Appraisal caps would also create inequities between neighbors. Under the governor’s proposal, when a home is sold, for properties that have exceeded the appraisal cap, the taxes would then increase to full market value meaning the buyer would pay higher taxes than the owner of a similar home next door.

The pressures of a 3% appraisal cap combined with unfunded state mandates would force cities and counties to cut back on non-mandatory services that local citizens want - such as economic development, libraries, parks, senior and youth programs – particularly if caps are coupled with even more unfunded mandates from the state.

As for the suggestion that city and county leaders cannot be trusted to keep taxes low, local officials reap what they sow. When they fail to maintain a proper balance of local services and taxes they get thrown out of office. This is where our votes matter.

Property tax relief is needed. But appraisal caps are not the answer. If the Legislature would provide the same percentage of school funding that it did 20 years ago, far more property tax relief could be realized for all homeowners than could be achieved by shifting the tax burden to those who can least afford it and forcing local governments to cut services.



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