What to Know: The city of Houston is set to raise property taxes on Wednesday well above the 3.5 percent limit set by the Legislature for tax hikes without voter approval. The property tax vote will come after a public hearing.
The TPPF Take: The city is using COVID-19 as an excuse to circumvent voters.
“Houston is not exempt from state law. If the city wants to raise taxes in a big way, then it must get voter approval first,” says TPPF’s James Quintero. “City officials who ignore the law risk major penalties in future years. The Texas Legislature—and the voters who sent them there—should be respected.”
It is the duty of voters to hold their elected representatives accountable for the decisions they make. This rings especially true for fiscal matters.
This much was echoed recently by Mack Morris who wrote that: “If the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, just as surely the price of reasonable taxation is perpetual vigilance.”
His critiqued was aimed primarily at local officials attempting to circumvent Senate Bill 2, which requires that cities and counties hold an election to decide if property taxes should be increased by more than 3.5%.
While the concept is rather straightforward, some cities and counties have been trying to get around the new requirement by citing to the natural disaster exemption. Under the right circumstances that provision allows jurisdictions to raise taxes by up to 8%. But it was not intended to address economic calamity stemming from a government-imposed shutdown.
A co-author for SB 2, Sen. Paul Bettencourt, also concurs with this interpretation and has openly considered penalties for those who would try to exploit this loophole.
A victory came for Texans when Dallas City Council rejected the 8% tax increase and set the standard—that this loophole should not be abused by big cities and that citizens are not piggy banks to be broken when local governments feel the need to give themselves a raise.
With 9,000 businesses having closed in Texas since the pandemic struck and the unemployment rate being above 6%, now is not a time to consider a property tax increase. Local officials should instead be looking for ways to soothe economic pains by cutting unnecessary spending, just as many Texans are doing themselves.
Regardless, citizens should remain vigilant and informed by contacting their local representatives and officials to ensure they are upholding their constituents’ best interests.