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It’s property tax cut season

There are three things in life that are certain: Death, taxes, and Republicans proposing tax cuts.

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday floated the idea of cutting the county’s property tax rate 1 cent — a decrease that would save the average homeowner about $12 annually.

County Judge Ed Emmett, who will seek election next year to the post to which he was appointed this year, led the push for the tax cut.


Commissioner El Franco Lee said he may support the cut if it does not harm delivery of needed services. But he called the proposed reduction nothing more than a token gesture.

He said Emmett is pressing for the cut because he is seeking election and thinks there is a sector of the public that will be impressed by even a small cut in the tax rate.

“All of this is demagoguery. We’re in that business. That’s a given,” Lee said.

Got it in one.

Emmett, tapped by the four county commissioners to serve as county judge earlier this year, said he knows the savings for the average homeowner will be small.

“That’s always one of the arguments — that for the individual, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “But in the aggregate, it does matter.”

From 2002-06, County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt and former County Judge Robert Eckels, who resigned in March, lost nearly annual fights with the four county commissioners over whether the property tax rate should be cut.

Bettencourt long has argued that decreases were in order because rising property values have translated into higher tax bills for many property owners.

In 2004, the four commissioners on the five-member Commissioners Court defeated Eckels’ attempt to lower the county tax rate a quarter-cent. Commissioner Steve Radack said then, “It’s almost insulting for (Eckels and Bettencourt) to say they were saving taxpayers all this money. Why else go there for something so minor except to grab headlines?”

But Radack, who is working to help fellow Republican Emmett get elected, said he likely would support the proposed 1-cent decrease.

Bettencourt said, “Any property tax relief is good. Something is always better than nothing.”

What would be even better would be to push for real reforms in the criminal justice system so we’re not spending millions of our tax dollars locking up people who could be out on bail or in drug rehab programs. If we did that, we might actually be able to afford a property tax cut, maybe even one that’ll save people more than the cost of lunch at Fuddrucker’s. For some reason, that sort of thing never factors into the thinking of people like Paul Bettencourt.

Bacarisse has called for a 5-cent cut in the county property tax rate.

Bettencourt has said such a rate reduction would save the average Harris County homeowner about $58 a year.

“We’re talking about the appointed county judge’s token move as opposed to our decrease that would provide real tax relief,” Bacarisse said.

Emmett is calling for the cut while the court will be asking voters to approve $630 million in county bonds and $250 million in Port of Houston Authority bonds in November.

The 1-cent cut in the tax rate would mean a loss of $25 million in county revenue annually, Bettencourt said.

Radack said it was fair for people to ask why the court might seek a tax rate cut while pushing a costly bond package.

Emmett said the bonds voted on in November wouldn’t begin to be floated until 2011. The county can afford to give a cut in the tax rate now, he said.

It is indeed fair to ask that. It’s also fair to ask how much the bonds are going to cost in interest payments annually, and whether we’ll just have to repeal this token tax cut (or Bacarisse’s less token and more expensive cut) in 2011 to cover that cost as well as the extra operational expenses of the expanded jails. How about that, fellas?

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One Comment

  1. Charles Hixon says:

    Servicing bonds is a regular commitment to the budget that reduces our flexibility in the event of an emergency.

    Bonds reduce the effectiveness of Emergency Management and tie the County Judge’s hands as the Director of Emergency Management and a member of Commissioners Court.