If there is anyone opposed to controlling taxes, I haven’t met that person.
So, when you are faced with what seems to be that opportunity on your ballot with elections now underway, you will certainly check off the option to do so. Right?
There are two propositions that appear enticing to those wanting to stop what Gov. Greg Abbott and others describe as “skyrocketing” property taxes.
One proposal would replace the property tax with an “appropriate consumption tax equivalent” – resulting in almost quadrupling the sales taxes we all pay.
That notion has been debunked as unrealistic and devastating to new homebuyers and cities without large retail economies.
The other would impose an artificial limit of 4 percent on the growth of local government revenue. Abbott’s proposal is for a 2.5 percent limit – well below the annual rise in the cost of educating our children and maintaining current levels of city services.
Since what we already have is a result of direct and indirect voter approval, what is to be gained by an arbitrary limit on revenue growth, most of which comes from new property being added to the city’s tax base?
Those behind more state control would answer that it would rein in the runaway spending by local elected officials. That’s complete nonsense.
School boards and city councils doing what their constituents want is governing by the most fundamental of conservative policies.
A recent example of the principle of local control at work can be found in the last school bond election in Arlington. The proposal was the largest public school spending program in the county’s history and would carry with it, if approved, a property tax increase to pay for it.
Voters ignored the fierce opposition, and by a majority of almost 70 percent, the ambitious program to improve existing schools and build new ones was approved.
The current budget for the city of Arlington offers another example of voters sanctioning modestly higher taxes to get what they wanted.
After hearing from taxpayers at six public hearings and town hall meetings, the City Council approved the new spending plan that would have exceeded the arbitrary 4 percent cap by about $3.25 per month for the owner of an average home.
I’m not sure that would qualify as “skyrocketing” property taxes, but it does represent the public will with no necessity to interfere with citizens’ rights to have what they want and need from the city.
Let’s imagine the governor’s plan succeeds and the state substitutes its will over that of the people. The result of such an outcome would change the discussion in those public meetings from considerations of people getting what they want to deciding which services they will have to do without.
After a few years of doing that, which inevitably will have resulted in the loss of the quality of life once enjoyed, will cause us all to wonder how that happened.
The answer will be that we fell for the populist rhetoric of promises to cut taxes. (Something, by the way, not even included in legislation that masquerades as property tax reform.)
Instead of considering the consequences of doing something that felt good but was instead detrimental to our health, safety and welfare, we opted for what sounded good from politicians seeking our favor.
No, I have no expectations that these propositions on our ballots will fail to get overwhelming approval.
I do hope, however, that when these measures are up for debate in the next session of the Texas Legislature that leaving tax policy in the hands of the people prevails over the wrongheaded belief that any of us are better off with the state deciding what is best for us.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.