Richard Greene

Will Texas Legislature cut your tax bill? Here’s why not to count on it

If there’s anything more appealing to voters than a promise to lower taxes, I don’t know what it is.

Unless, instead of the positive motivator, it is sparking fear of what happens to you if you can’t pay your taxes.

Texas legislators are using both in their support for a new law they say will deliver on the first and prevent the second.

If we look beyond the soundbites, we might just become better at our privilege of being the ones who actually control what happens in government.

I’ve written previously on the result of diminished services and decline in infrastructure development and improvement if local governments are handicapped by legislation that arbitrarily limits their ability to pay for the things citizens want and need.

Beyond those certainties, let’s get real about the perceived burden of local taxes and empower ourselves with some facts that put things in perspective.

First and foremost, let me remind you again that there is no provision in the proposed legislation moving through the Texas Capitol as we speak that would make your next property tax bill lower than the one you last paid.

The only exception to that statement would be for the state to come up with many billions of dollars for public education that would make it possible for school districts to actually lower your tax bill.

There is no clarity in how our lawmakers might deliver on the early promise to find that money.

So, while we wait to see if such relief is coming our way, maybe we should take a look at the impression being left that Texas is a high property tax state. Rhetoric from those we elected to serve us goes so far as to say that property taxes are “out of control” and they intend to fix that.

Here are some actual numbers so you can determine for yourself if such a declaration holds up upon further review.

According to the U. S. Census Bureau, property taxes being paid by all American homeowners across all the states average just under $2,200 per year.

The average Texas homeowner pays about $38 per month more than that national figure.

As County Judge Glen Whitley points out in his efforts to inform Tarrant County citizens, when the total burden of local taxes is considered to include property tax, sales tax, and income tax (there is no such thing in Texas), our state ranks 29th in generating total revenues from those sources.

Those numbers do not paint a picture of runaway local tax burdens on you and your fellow Texans.

But, what about those stories we hear of people being “taxed out of their homes” or losing their homes because they can’t pay their property tax bill?

If you are 65 years old or older, you can forget about that ever happening to you by simply going onto the Texas Controller’s website and completing a simple form that will exempt you from paying property taxes for as long as you live.

It’s true that someday those taxes will have to be paid by your heirs or when you sell your home. Chances are, with the growth in property values we enjoy, deferring taxes won’t be an issue in deciding to choose this option.

If you haven’t reached your senior years and are having trouble paying your property taxes, you can expect local governments to be quite cooperative in working out a solution for you.

If you have a mortgage on your home, your lender is likely already spreading your tax bill over the year as part of your monthly house payments.

The bottom line in all of this: Don’t get wrapped up in expectations of politicians promising to cut your tax bill. No matter how great that sounds, you will be disappointed if you believe it.

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.