Academic journal article Texas Review of Law & Politics

Rolling Back Property Taxes in Texas: A Critique of the Arguments Brought Forth by Various Organizations against Lowering the Property Tax Rollback Rate in the Lone Star State

Academic journal article Texas Review of Law & Politics

Rolling Back Property Taxes in Texas: A Critique of the Arguments Brought Forth by Various Organizations against Lowering the Property Tax Rollback Rate in the Lone Star State

Article excerpt

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When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, [it] becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression.1

Introduction

These words, modeled closely after the U.S. Declaration of Independence,2 embody the legendary Texas Revolution:3 a war lasting our state's forefathers a mere six-and-a-half months,4 but for the world forever forged-in blood-to the annals of history. A close comparison between both the U.S. and Texas declarations reveals, however, a glaring difference: while both documents took strongly from the ideas of the classical philosopher John Locke,5 the U.S. declaration used the words "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."6 The Texas declaration, by stark comparison, directly invoked Locke's theory of what government was designed to secure7-life, liberty, and namely, property.8 Hundreds of men lost their lives in defense of the principles outlined in the Texas declaration at the famous battle of the Alamo,9 and more still later in similar defense.10 All this is to say that property has not been historically, nor is it now, an insignificant aspect of the life of a Texan.11 But as this article will show, the government of Texas has increasingly acted as if that is the case.12

Fast-forward one hundred and seventy years to the year 2006, during the middle of Rick Perry's second term as Governor of Texas.13 Then, Texas ranked fourteenth on the list in terms of property tax burden.14 To address this, the Legislature implemented a "property tax swap," switching out the rising property tax burden with an increase in franchise and motor vehicle taxes coupled with increases in taxes on tobacco products.15 But the attempt at property tax relief failed.16 Nearing the end of his term as Governor of Texas, Perry saw in 2012 Texas's property tax burden ranking rise to fifth highest in the nation in terms of state and local property tax collections as a percentage of mean home value17-a dire situation that again called for legislative action. The Texas Legislature intervened the following session, passing increases to the standard Texas homestead exemption.18 But now, four years later, Texas still ranks among the highest in the nation under the same metric.19 If local budgets continue to grow and other states begin to solve their property tax problems, it stands to reason that Texas will be left in the dust as we inevitably climb closer to the number-one spot in the coming years. While Texas proudly ranks highly in subjects like business,20 oil production,21 and criminal justice reform,22 ranking first in property tax collection is not a goal any Texas politician-Republican or Democrat-seeks to soon achieve.

Although it is clear that the governmental structure of the state is in dire need of serious property tax reform, and that its citizens are in dire need of property tax relief, the legislature seemed, at the end of the last legislative session, worlds away from actually implementing a complete overhaul of the system; even a cursory understanding of the recent legislative battles on the issue shows that to be the case.23 Various proposals range from a complete swap of property taxes with a broader base of sales tax24 to a property tax "buydown," using surplus state dollars to supplement local maintenance and operation costs in the aftereffect of a state-imposed spending limit.25 These are noble goals-and would likely provide relief-but they carry with them the need for a political will that the legislature as a whole has lacked, historically.26

All of that changed, though, after the last legislative session when the legislature, after decades of debating the issue, finally lowered the rollback rate-a mechanism that allows taxpayers to limit certain local tax increases. …

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