March 19, 2004
Eckels shills for Perry's property tax cap

Harris County Judge Robert Eckels is going to bat for Governor Perry's proposed property tax rate increase cap.

Eckels, who joined two state legislators on a three-city tour organized by the governor's staff, said Perry has taken a "courageous stand" against rising property taxes.

"The governor's plan protects local governments from unfunded state mandates that force local property tax increases and hides the true cost of state government programs," Eckels said. "It makes government accountable to the taxpayer."

But opponents believe Perry's plan would severely restrict local governments' ability to raise tax revenues to pay for basic services.

Interestingly, one of those opponents is that hotbed of Democratic liberalism Collin County.

Collin County Commissioners' Court on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution opposing Gov. Rick Perry's plan to limit property-appraisal increases and cap the amount of money raised from property taxes as part of so-called "Robin Hood" school-finance changes.

County Judge Ron Harris said the court stands behind local control and is concerned about the potential financial impact Perry's plan might have.

"We feel the vast number of Texas cities have been very prudent," said Harris, who chairs the court. "We have to face citizens for re-election. They've got the last say anyway."


County Administrator Bill Bilyeu said county officials are concerned that if the proposal is adopted, they would not be able to expand services enough to provide for a rapidly growing population because the rate set by the Legislature might be less than the growth.

"It's a cap on how much your operating budget can go up, regardless of how many new people moved in, new homes, mandates," Bilyeu said.

On average, about 76 people move into Collin County a day, outpacing the growth of most of the state's 254 counties, he said. While population growth across the state is roughly 2 percent, Collin County, at about 5 percent, is among several counties along Interstate 35 that are bursting at the seams.

The growth of Collin County's operations is not because of increasing values for existing homes.

"Our growth is new buildings, new houses on the ground," he said.

The expanded tax base pays for the new roads, jails and sheriff's deputies need to serve the county's new residents.


"I maintain what brought school financing to a head is not really the taxes," Harris said. "It is the fact it's hit the cap ... It's just not good policy to handicap local governments. You'll have to make some cuts. The first thing that will be cut is your infrastructure."

Counties must maintain jails and courts. In cities, residents want their children to get the right education, and they want police and fire service and their trash picked up, he said.

"We have to pay for what we get," Harris said.

"We've been able to hold the tax rate, allowing growth, the increased tax based, to fund itself."

County residents seem happy with the commissioners' court. Two of its members, Commissioners Phyllis Cole and Joe Jaynes, received more than 60 percent of the vote for re-election in last week's primary.

No Democrats filed to run for commissioner.


"We're empowering Commissioner Cole, who is chair of a conference of urban counties, to represent that Collin County is absolutely opposed to the plan coming out of the governor's office," Harris said.

These guys are right. What this cap will do is essentially force counties to choose between schools, roads, hospitals, law enforcement, or flood control. Can someone give me a reason why any one of these things is less critical and less expected by the people who pay for them than any other? Cause I can't. But apparently Robert Eckels can, though of course he'll never tell you that.

One last thing, from the Chron story:

Republican Reps. Dwayne Bohac of Houston and Elizabeth Ames Jones of San Antonio joined Eckels on the tax cap promotion tour.

Bohac sponsored similar legislation last year that would have capped appraisal increases at 5 percent a year. He said the governor's plan was better and would stop "appraisal creep." At present, appraisal increases are capped at 10 percent a year.


Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Bohac and Jones voted against Democratic amendments in 2003 that would have lowered the appraisal cap in Bohac's bill from 5 percent to 3 percent.

"How can these folks keep a straight face while pretending to support something they voted against last session?" Dunnam asked.

Practice, Jim. Lots of practice.

Plano Star Courier link via Southpaw.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 19, 2004 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack

No where in this entire process have I heard of any real plan to replace the lost revenues that will occur from capping property tax rate increases. Today's Dallas Morning News, whom I rarely agree with, had a sensible editorial which advocated replacement of the business franchise tax with a business activity tax (at 3.5%) which would generate $8 billion annually, along with an increase in the sales tax by 1%, generating another $2 billion. Both proposals are anathema most Republicans, I'm sure, but at least it's an honest, grown-up attempt to address the very real problem of how to fund our schools.

Posted by: Alan W on March 19, 2004 2:52 PM

Personally, I think two things are clear:

(1) There's no reason why property tax assessments should be able to rise 10% year after year. Not unless the underlying rate was reduced somewhat to offset some of the rampant rise in taxes paid.

(2) There needs to be some way to replace the revenue from much-needed property tax reform.

Other taxes will have to be raised, plain and simple. If the Republicans do stand firm against tax increases while asking for property tax relief, it would be comical -- or tragic -- to see how they would attempt to make up the shortfall.

Yes, I'm pretty hacked off at the prospect of alredy high property taxes that will probably rise another 10% this year. But they'd better be careful about the overall reform package. It could be a cure worse than the disease itself.

Posted by: Tim on March 19, 2004 3:03 PM