September 29, 2004
Read my lips: No new tax cuts!

No new symbolic Harris County property tax cuts, anyway.


Harris Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to keep the county tax rate the same this year after rejecting County Judge Robert Eckels' proposal to lower it a quarter-cent.

Eckels and county Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, who spoke in favor of the cut at the meeting, said the decrease was needed because rising home values have translated into higher tax bills for many residents.

But some commissioners said the quarter-cent cut was a meaningless decrease solely intended to curry favor with voters.

"What we need is advocacy, not playing games with our public," Commissioner El Franco Lee said.

The owner of a $100,000 home about $36,000 below the value of the average home in the county would have paid $2 less in taxes this year if the cut had passed, said Dick Raycraft, head of county management services.

That taxpayer, assuming he or she takes the typical 20 percent homeowner exemption, will pay $511.98, Raycraft said.

The county's rate 63.99 cents per $100 of assessed value has not increased since 2000, he said.

[...]

Eckels said, "I respect my colleagues and what they are looking at (tax situation), but we could have accommodated a tax cut."

Eckels couldn't find a second for his motion to make the cut.

Lee said Eckels and Bettencourt engaged in political grandstanding, and he characterized the cut as "cosmetic."

The county, he said, should not be cutting taxes when it has been forced to pick up the costs of health care, mental health and other programs funded by the state until this year.

Commissioner Sylvia Garcia said the county should keep the tax rate the same in case state lawmakers cut funding for programs even further next year.

"I think (the state lawmakers) will just send the problems back to the county," she said.

Commissioner Steve Radack said there were places in the budget that might be cut.

Eckels' predecessor, Jon Lindsay, had a core staff of 16, but Eckels has 28 full-timers, Radack said.

"It's almost insulting for them to say they were saving taxpayers all this money," Radack said of Eckels and Bettencourt. "Why else go there for something so minor except to grab headlines?"

Lee and Radack said they believe Eckels and Bettencourt were looking to score political points because each is eyeing a run for a state office.


For what it's worth, the county is doing fine financially as of last report, though I think Sylvia Garcia is right on about the state passing the buck on an ever-increasing number of items down to the counties. And c'mon - a lousy two dollars? What's the point? If you can't get Steve Radack or Jerry Eversole to even second a motion to consider a tax cut, it must be a bad idea.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 29, 2004 to Local politics | TrackBack
Comments

The rate hasn't increased, but revenues have skyrocketed because of appraisal creep, so a reduction in rates is not a ridiculous idea except to folks who like to have lots of new revenue AND to claim they haven't raised taxes.

I think Radack's objection was more that Eckels was shooting from the hip, and that his "plan" was conceived largely by certain talk radio hosts (wanna guess which station?) over the last day or two, rather than discussed by commissioners and staff.

Posted by: kevin whited on September 29, 2004 10:04 PM

When Commissioner Radack called in yesterday morning to KSEV, he gave the _lack_ of a plan by Judge Eckels as one reason for his opposition. He didn't say anything about certain talk show hosts, but of course he was talking to one.

He did talk about unfunded mandates from the state, debt service, etc. as being reasons for maintaining the tax rate.

Of course, I think Commissioner Radack was driving while he was on the phone, so he was hopefully concentrating on the road.

Posted by: Rob Booth (Slightly Rough) on September 30, 2004 6:55 AM

I heard an ad for this Prop. 2. thingy, Kuff, which supposedly has to do with taxes.

The ad has this really whiny woman whining (naturally) about the "politicians" behind Prop. 1. Not just transparently silly, but like, excessively annoying.

That's enough in and of itself I think for me to vote for 1 instead of 2.

So what's the dealio, Mr. Kuffner? Tell me how to vote on this issue which I don't know about (nor particularly care about, since I don't pay property taxes living on campus).

Posted by: Jim D on September 30, 2004 7:07 AM

Props 1 and 2 are city of Houston propositions, so they're not related to this County Commission business. Both propose caps on city tax revenues, with Prop 2 being more draconian. As I said here, I plan on voting against both of them, but if polling shows they will both pass (in which case the leading votegetter becomes law), I'll vote for Prop 1 since I think it's less bad.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on September 30, 2004 7:42 AM