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Some grassroots action on the unfairness of commercial property valuation

From the inbox:

Parents, homeowners, teachers, and community members from Houston gathered at the park in front of Nathaniel Q Henderson Elementary School to kick off local efforts in a statewide campaign called Real Values for Texas to fix the state’s broken property tax system.

“Our broken property tax system works against kids, homeowners, and schools,” said Reverend James Caldwell of the Houston Coalition of Community Organizations. “When big building owners manipulate property tax law, they deprive schools and neighborhoods of much-needed funds.”

In Houston, most large commercial property owners exploit loopholes in property tax law that allow them to lower their property tax bills by an average of 40 percent each year. As a result, Houston schools and local communities have lost an estimated $1.4 billion over the past five years. Schools have been hit the hardest, with losses of at least $730 million.

“It troubles me that, unless we change property tax law, kids in pre-kindergarten like my daughter will face obstacles to their education every year because of funding cuts,” said Tarah Taylor, a parent of an HISD student. “Even though she is just 4 years old, my daughter is already fundraising for musical instruments at her school.”

“My students pay the price when large commercial property owners get huge discounts on their property taxes,” said Daniel Santos, an HISD teacher. “From bigger class sizes to limited supplies, each year it gets harder to give students the full attention and resources they need to succeed.”

For homeowners, the impact has been equally significant. Since 2000, the property tax burden on homeowners grew from 45 percent to 54 percent while the share that commercial and industrial property owners paid dropped to less than 20 percent, according to the Associated Press.

“I do my part and pay my property taxes each year, and it’s unfair that homeowners like me have to make up for what big commercial property owners are not paying,” said Guadalupe Avila, a homeowner from Houston’s Northside. “It’s time for a fair system where big commercial property owners pay property taxes on the real market values of their properties.”

Local public officials have also shown support for a fair property tax system.

“Property tax fairness is a simple issue,” said Houston City Council Member Jerry Davis of District B. “It is about fixing the law to ensure that children have a quality education, our streets are safe, and homeowners are not overburdened.”

In April, supporters of Real Values for Texas in San Antonio rallied in front of the Homewood Suites-Riverwalk to call on large commercial property owners to stop exploiting loopholes and to pay property taxes on the real market value of their buildings.

In El Paso, Real Values for Texas supporters are engaging the local community around the connection between property tax manipulation and the proposed budget cuts by the El Paso Independent School District.

You know how I feel about this. Real Values For Texas is a newcomer on the scene, but they’re starting to get some attention, in the Trib and the DMN, which last month had its own big story on the unequal playing field for commercial property owners plus an editorial that called for fixing it. We all know the first step in solving a problem is admitting that you have one. The second step is getting organized. That’s what Real Values For Texas is about, so check them out.

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  1. Bill Daniels says:

    Since we are advocating fairness with taxation, I’m assuming the folks calling for reform are asking that commercial property owners be excused from paying school taxes on that property. I mean, what’s fair about businesses pay for the schools, when it’s the people living in houses and apartments that need those schools?

    Yeah, I won’t hold my breath.

  2. Steven Houston says:

    The businesses benefit from having a more educated workforce so perhaps they should pay twice as much given they benefit the most.

  3. matx says:

    The old “I don’t have kids, so I shouldn’t pay taxes to support public schools” meme for businesses. I think if it was a viable way for Perry and the rest of the Texas GOP to tout the business friendly environment in the state while screwing over the poor and middle class it would have been done deal by now.