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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Proposed property tax plan meets opposition from North Texas officials

Gov. Greg Abbott, standing with fellow Republicans Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, along with the heads of both chambers’ tax-writing committees, presented a united front on Jan. 31 for a plan to limit property-tax growth.

The proposal, introduced in both houses of the Legislature, seeks to limit property-tax growth by requiring voter approval before cities, counties and school districts can raise tax rates by more than 2.5 percent.

It’s somewhat similar to a proposal from the last legislative session in 2017 that drew a vigorous opposition from local municipalities.

Abbott’s proposal has a basic premise: “Provide one simple method by which taxpayers are protected from excessive increases in their tax burden.”

The plan has again run afoul of local officials, but – unlike last session –there is some hope for a compromise.

Also unlike the last session, when Abbott never put his support behind that proposal, he has signed on to the measure mentioning it as one of his top priorities in his State of the State address. However, just like last time, municipalities are generally united against any plan that limits their authority.

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley and other local officials have said they oppose any plan that ties their hands, particularly when the state continues to hand down unfunded mandates.

Abbott has signaled that he may also tackle unfunded mandates. In his inaugural address on Jan. 15, he said: “To fix this, Texas must limit the ability of taxing authorities to raise your property taxes. At the same time, Texas must end unfunded mandates on cities and counties. And taxpayers should be given the power to fire their property tax appraiser.”

That could provide more maneuvering room with local municipalities.

Chris Wallace, president of the North Texas Commission, said the new plan by the governor, as currently fashioned, won’t be acceptable to his organization’s member businesses, cities, counties, chambers of commerce, economic development entities and higher education institutions.

“We think 2.5 percent is a non-starter,” he said.

He noted that the NTC board voted to oppose revenue caps.

“It’s way too low. Is there a percentage that, from a negotiating standpoint, would be better?” he asked. “That’s the question. Or no caps at all. No caps at all, you know, and how do you sustain any sort of revenue in the future that would be generated in the short term? So, if they were to cap 2.5 percent and say that they make up the difference from other sources, how do you sustain that long term? That may work for the short term, but what does the long term look like?”

Wallace said his group opposes any plan that would hinder a city’s ability to provide core services, such as public safety, infrastructure and other critical services.

“Our region has a rapidly growing population,” he said. “Our job growth is out the roof. Our population continues to expand, our trajectory is it’s going to continue to increase. So why would we want to tie the hands of our cities’ and counties’ ability to be able to provide those core services? Why would we do that when we’re having a high-growth trajectory in terms of increasing population and job growth?”

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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