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Appraisal caps back on the agenda

The idea will never die, unfortunately. No matter what the effects are.


Local officials in the Houston area say they are concerned that incoming state leaders will push for tax relief measures that could limit their ability to meet the needs of fast-growing urban and suburban areas.

Gov.-elect Greg Abbott has spoken of “looking at ways that we can try to provide some level of tax relief,” and it was also a key platform of the incoming lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick. With rising assessments driving up tax bills in many suburban counties, some lawmakers have proposed reining in such increases. Proposals include making it easier for residents to call a tax rate election when property tax revenue comes in high to lowering the cap on taxable home values.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said he is concerned about state lawmakers potentially tying the hands of county officials to set tax policy and provide adequate services.

“If you lower property taxes, someone is going to have to tell counties like Harris what services you don’t want anymore, because we’re barely funding our mandated duties as is,” Emmett said.


Other proposals submitted so far in early bill filings for 2015 include hiring county-level tax experts, lowering the appraisal cap from 10 percent, expanding exemptions, capping revenue growth based on a formula that considers population and inflation, and abolishing property taxes altogether, replacing them with a modified sales tax.

“The devil is in the details,” said Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert. “Depending on how they cap it, it could shut down how Fort Bend serves the county. I think there’s a reasonable solution to it if we get everyone to be reasonable.”

Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, agreed that some of the proposals could provide taxpayers with relief without crippling the budgets and autonomy of local leaders.

“We’re always open to the idea of appraisal reform, but we’re not fans of the revenue-capping idea,” Sandlin said. “The revenue cap takes discretion away from the governments closest to the people. It’s the state saying, ‘We know what’s best.’ ”

If the Legislature actually cared about making the appraisal system better and fairer and more equitable, there’s lots they could do to make that happen. That’s not what they’re interested in, of course. It’s the usual wingnut wish list of cutting taxes for the wealthy and limiting spending for no good reason. You’d think these legislative Republicans would be leery about making Texas be like California, but irony died a long time ago and left no successor.

Besides, it’s not like there aren’t other ways to arbitrarily limit spending.

The Legislative Budget Board voted unanimously Monday to set the state’s growth rate at 11.68 percent for its 2016-17 budget, about 1 percent higher than the spending cap for the current budget.

The decision comes as state officials expect to enter the next legislative session in January with a multibillion-dollar surplus and competing factions push to ramp spending growth both down and up.

The budget board — made up of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Joe Straus, and four members each of the state House and Senate — selected the rate with little discussion, though the decision could have a big impact on next year’s legislative session.

The growth rate guides how far the next budget can exceed the current one in spending on “nondedicated revenue,” which are the parts of the budget that are funded by state taxes but not required to go to specific programs. In practice, the growth rate puts a spending cap on less than half of the state’s two-year budget. State leaders have indicated they have no plans to attempt to “bust the spending cap” next year, a move that would require the support of a majority of lawmakers.

That 11.68 percent growth rate was the low end of the range. Moody’s pegged the state’s growth rate at over 15 percent. Ah, but what do those private sector yahoos know about anything, am I right?

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