Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley on Thursday gave the Texas Legislature a mixed score card, applauding education funding but arguing more could be done to ease the burden of property taxes.
Whitley praised a school finance bill that added $6.5 billion for public education but said he remained unconvinced state lawmakers had done enough to help relieve residential property owners of higher tax bills. He asked lawmakers to explore alternatives to property taxes and decried unfunded mandates, things the state requires of municipalities without funding.
Also, he said, Texans are not over taxed.
Citing data from the Tax Foundation, a Washington-D.C. think tank, Whitley said Texas ranks 29th for taxes collected per person, even when local and federal taxes are included. That rank drops to 37th when looking at taxes as a percentage of income.
“You’re gonna have a hard time convincing me that I’m overtaxed,” Whitley said.
To ease the burden of property taxes, Whitley said he wanted state lawmakers to explore raising the gas tax.
The per gallon levy of 20 cents has been unchanged since the early 1990s. Whitley said that with better fuel efficiency and more electric cars, most Texas drivers wouldn’t pay as much at the pump. Texans aren’t the only ones paying the state gas tax, he said, arguing that visitors and new residents from out-of-state chip in.
“With us having the burden on property tax, we’re not giving all those people who have the opportunity to come and visit this great state a chance to pay their fair share,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of people who come here from other places like California and New York, and they can afford to pay.”
The state should also take responsibility for indigent defense, picking up the tab for legal help for those who can’t pay, and the roughly 500 state prisoners housed in the county jail, Whitley said. Between the two, which he called “unfunded mandates,” Tarrant County could save $30 million a year, he said.
But taxes aren’t the only issue, he said. Lawmakers could do more to limit the increase of property tax appraisals.
While residential property appraisals are capped at a 10% increase per year if the home is owner-occupied, there is no cap for apartments, rental homes, secondary homes and commercial property. Whitley said he supported caps for those properties as well.
His remarks came at the 9th annual Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce State of Tarrant County luncheon where the Texas Rangers where honored with the Vandergriff Award. The award is named after former Tarrant County Judge Tom Vandergriff, who helped recruit the Rangers to Arlington in 1972 and is presented to organizations that lift the county’s image nationally.