The State Lege will once again take a crack at telling local governments how to mind their own businesses.
Keeping up the pressure to lower the cap on local property appraisals, a lawmaker from Houston filed on Thursday the third bill, so far, of the young legislative session to address that issue.
House Bill 784 by Republican state Rep. Dwayne Bohac would lower the current 10 percent cap on annual appraisal increases to 5 percent.
State Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, earlier filed a similar bill, HB 108, calling for a 5 percent limit, and state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, is sponsoring HB 359, which would lower the cap to 3 percent, the level advocated by Gov. Rick Perry, who has made property-tax relief a major priority.
The House overwhelmingly approved a 5 percent cap two years ago, but the measure died in the Senate during the session's closing days.
Perry tried to resurrect the proposal during last spring's special session on school finance, but it failed.
Perry once more identified the appraisal caps as a priority during last week's State of the State address to the Legislature. He said Texans are "sick and tired of taxation by valuation."
Bohac said he doesn't want to apply the lower appraisal cap to the taxable value of minerals, which are important sources of revenue for school districts and other local governments in some parts of Texas. A dispute including minerals helped stall the bill in the Senate during the 2003 session.
Crockett County draws 92 percent of its revenue from oil-rich property, County Judge Johnny Jones said. Spurred by the 2004 oil boom, property values increased 25 percent.
"We can't let them impose some sort of arbitrary limit there," Jones said. "We're opposed to that, and all counties are, as far as I know."
In Eldorado, an increase in property-tax revenue allowed the Schleicher County Independent School District to lower its tax rate while gaining enough extra money to replace a dilapidated air-conditioning system.
In Reagan County, where the first West Texas oil well was drilled, oil-driven property taxes account for more than 70 percent of its revenue, Turner said. Property values there increased 40 percent last year.
A cap on property appraisals would drain funds from already strapped county governments and school districts, Griffin said. The entities in turn would divert funds from road improvements, sheriff's departments and school materials to pay for state mandates, he said.
According to the Texas Association of Counties, which is lobbying heavily against the bill and lobbied against similar proposals in last year's special legislative session, 61 percent of a given county's property tax revenue goes to funding its schools.
"There are some counties that can cope with it better than others," such as wealthier areas north of Dallas or south of Houston, said Elna Christopher, a Texas Association of Counties spokeswoman.
The counties are not as poor as they make themselves sound, said Robert Black, a Perry spokesman.
"They can raise additional funds," Black said. "All they have to do is call a meeting (to raise the tax rate). Most local entities don't have to raise their tax rates because they get a big cash cow from appraisals that go up."
And just to prove that the concept of We Like Local Control As Long As You're Doing What We Like is a bipartisan one, we have State Sen. John Whitmire's efforts to cut the SafeClear program off at the knees. Maybe SafeClear is a good idea and maybe it's not, but as Rick Casey noted, thirteen City Council members voted for it in an election year. If the people of Houston really think that SafeClear sucks, they'll have ample opportunity to express those wishes in fairly short order. Unless, of course, a bunch of non-Houstonians at the state Capitol take that choice away from them. Because, of course, they're in a better position to make those decisions than we are.
(DMN and San Angelo Standard links via Lasso.)Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 04, 2005 to That's our Lege | TrackBack