Richard Greene

Texas lawmakers on the way to denying funds for your roads, public safety

Bundled behind all the property tax relief rhetoric coming from Texas’ top politicians are consequences that make their proposed legislation strongly resemble a Trojan horse.

In Greek mythology the beast was presented as a gift to the Trojans, while inside resided an elite force designed to conquer the unsuspecting recipients.

To avoid being fooled, we should examine the announcements of tax reform and look beyond the popular impression that somehow we are going to get a reduction in the costs to educate our children and maintain the essential services that support our daily lives.

Yes, if the state can find eight or nine billion dollars to pump into public education and relieve that much of the burden from local school districts, they may be able to actually reduce what they need from property taxes.

That outcome would require a significant increase in tax revenues from some other sources. In short, the promises of lower school tax bills, increased funding for our schools, and higher teacher pay present a challenge that’s tough to deliver.

Then it’s important to remember this: there is no new law being developed that will result in cutting our current city or county property tax bills.

There is, however, legislation already crafted that will result in us getting less of what we need from our local governments.

Such outcomes would be why we should be wary of all these claims about how much better off we will be when the reality could be something that none of us would like or want.

The arbitrary limit of a 2.5 percent increase in property tax revenues proposed by our governor presents a significant challenge to city and county governments across the state.

Except, that is, for those cities and counties carved out for exemptions from the proposed law – a ploy by the sponsors to win votes in the Texas Senate and House of Representatives from those members whose districts would not be affected by such restrictions.

But for the rest of the urban areas of the state, including the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington region, tough and unpopular decisions will have to be made to continue providing current levels of service to citizens when there isn’t enough money for that purpose.

At first, the predictable reaction from many citizens would be that they think cutting costs is always a good thing for government to do, so it’s okay for that to happen.

Upon further consideration, a sobering reality will set in.

Would we like the record amounts of street repair and construction that we currently enjoy to continue? Of course, we would. Will we like it if that improvement to our daily commute is curtailed? Probably not.

What about having to deny requests from police and fire department professionals for sufficient funding to keep our neighborhoods and lives safe and secure?

A great example of how that could happen can be illustrated in Arlington’s existing budget. Already it requires more than currently available property tax revenues to fund the police department.

That means, with inflation driving expenses higher all the time, there is no room at all for cutting public safety costs when the proposed restrictions on revenue growth from property taxes would be foisted on the city.

This process would permeate the entire budget, with the inevitable result being reductions in services and a corresponding loss to our overall quality of life — unhappily, without cutting our property tax bills.

Why would anyone believe that’s something we should ever look forward to happening?

The fundamental values of local control are at stake, as they always seem to be when our legislature convenes.

Whenever state legislators decide they can do a better job of managing cities, counties and school districts then, as citizens of those jurisdictions, we should not let them because it’s not the way government is supposed to work.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor, served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and lectures at UT Arlington.