Senate Bill 2 is being promoted in Austin as a property tax relief bill, but its effect will be far different.
It will impose a ceiling on the quality of life of people in cities across Texas, limiting our ability to maintain or improve public safety, streets and economic development.
And it won’t even provide any significant tax relief . The most it could save the average Arlington homeowner would be less than $1.50 per month. And at what price?
The Arlington City Council listens to taxpayers every time year when it sets a new the budget, focusing on the feedback we get in an annual resident survey, public meetings and in everyday conversations.
In the past two years, about 70 percent of Arlington residents wanted to keep the tax rate and service delivery at the current level.
Thirteen percent of those surveyed wanted to raise taxes and increase services.
And only 10 percent wanted to cut the tax rate and the services provided to them by the city.
Their top concerns are speeding, car burglaries, stray animals and residential burglaries.
In response, the council places a high priority on public safety, spending nearly 65 percent, more than $150 million, of the General Fund budget on our nationally accredited and recognized police and fire departments.
We also place a high priority on transportation, on safe and smooth streets and traffic management that can accommodate residents and visitors.
We are continuing to build our economy. The $1.4 billion General Motors expansion and the creation of 6,000 jobs in the last 18 months are two examples of these efforts.
In addition to bringing jobs to Arlington, economic development deals benefit our schools, because while the city may choose to reinvest the additional property taxes generated, the school districts keep their additional property taxes.
For example, a recent 10-year deal with a Fortune 500 company is expected to bring an additional $2,263,310 over the life of the deal.
In Year One, Arlington ISD gains new revenue. After that, it essentially goes to the state of Texas because the district’s state subsidy is reduced because of the additional tax revenue.
If the Legislature handcuffs us with a revenue cap, our ability to maintain this level of achievement in public safety, transportation and job creation will be severely curtailed.
Making improvements could be difficult as resources shift to maintaining the status quo.
This will leave Arlington residents, 83 percent of whom believe our tax rate is at or below where it should be, without important services.
We are also focused on providing tax relief to property owners through homestead, veteran, disabled and senior exemptions that lower the taxable value of their homes.
In fiscal year 2016, Arlington’s market value was reduced through these measures by $4 billion, providing $26 million to residents in property tax savings.
In Arlington, as in most cities, property taxes paid to the city are only about 24 percent of a resident’s total bill.
The largest portion of property taxes go to our fantastic school districts.
School districts are forced to raise additional tax revenue because the share of funding they get from the state has been declining steadily over the past decade.
From 2012 to 2017, the state’s share of funding for public education fell from 46 percent to 41 percent. The Legislature uses that savings to fund other areas of its budget, leaving school districts to meet their own needs.
Real property tax relief will require the Legislature to fix and fund the broken school finance system, not come into our communities and tell us how many police officers we should hire, how many potholes we can fix or how to recruit companies to Arlington.
The Legislature must find a real solution to the property tax burden instead of handcuffing city councils, hurting Texans’ quality of life and failing to achieve meaningful tax relief.
Jeff Williams is mayor of Arlington.