Gov. Greg Abbott has kicked off his election campaign with a promise reminiscent to the one he made in his 2014 run for the governor's office: Tax reform.
At a Tuesday press conference, Abbott unveiled a proposal
to dramatically shrink the amount of property taxes a city or county can collect from residents. Currently, municipalities can annually collect up to 8 percent more in property taxes than they did the year before. Anything higher must go to a public vote. Under Abbott's proposition, cities and counties would only be able to increase that rate by 2.5 percent each year without having to go to the polls. Thanks to prior legislative lobbying, law enforcement funding and teacher salaries are exempt from the cap.
Texas currently has the fifth highest tax rate in the country, mostly because it's one of the seven states without a state income tax. But it's been a longtime grievance for Texas Republicans.
"We can no longer sit idly by while homeowners are reduced to tenants of their very own property with taxing authorities playing the role of landlord," Abbott said.
Abbott's plan also includes mandates for local government to be more transparent about its incurred debt when asking for voter approval of major bond packages.
It's an issue that dominated the 2017 state legislature
(at least, for conservative lawmakers) and will likely become the cornerstone of Abbott's 2018 re-election campaign. Of course, his tax proposal will have to be approved by the state legislature — meaning the soonest it would go into effect would be late 2019.
While this sounds like good news for property owners, these taxes directly go toward running public schools, community colleges, cities, counties, and hospitals. Higher property taxes often equates to better schools, top-notch hospitals, and responsive government agencies. Abbott said that under his proposal, the state government would instead be responsible for funding these crucial local services.
But Abbott did not offer details on how, exactly, the state would wrangle up that massive chunk of funding — especially the funds needed to keep the already-broken education system afloat.
It appears the biggest losers in this proposed plan are local governments — entities that Abbott has often said should be free from any larger government control. But for Abbott, the press conference was more a campaign speech for anti-tax voters than a moment to explain a complicated tax plan.
"Young families who are just starting out are having trouble affording their first home and businesses are unable to grow and hire more workers," Abbott said. "Enough is enough."
Naturally, Texas conservatives applauded Abbott's announcement, including Senators Joan Huffman and Paul Bettencourt. Texas' Center for Public Policy Priorities, an independent research group, released a statement Tuesday chiding Abbott's plan.
"The Governor's misguided proposal suggests that he doesn’t trust Texans to make the best decisions for our communities," said CPPP Director Ann Beeson. "[He] criticizes local debt, like city and county bonds, without mentioning that all local bonds are approved by voters. When we vote locally for city, county and school board officials, we are choosing how much we want to pay for schools, public safety and other services we value. We all benefit from services delivered by our city, county and other local governments."
Andrew White, one of the top Democrats running for the governor's seat, also responded to Abbott's announcement in a pair of tweets: