The Magnolia ISD board of trustees is asking voters to approve increasing the property tax rate by ten cents per $100 valuation in a special midsummer election. Tax ratification elections such as this have become common across Texas, as school districts seek to increase their revenue.
If the proposition passes, the maintenance and operation tax rate will be raised ten cents, while the rate used to service the debt, the I&S rate, will be lowered by ten cents. Recently coined across the state as a “swap and drop”, Magnolia ISD is claiming that the change will not affect the tax rate, which will remain at $1.3795 per $100 valuation.
However, some have questioned whether that will actually be the case, since the district will be free to raise the I&S rate back again after the proposition passes. And even if the tax rate does remain the same, homeowners will still pay more due to skyrocketing property values.
“The school district is trying to use an underhanded accounting trick called the penny swap, where they fiddle with moving pennies around from one rate to the other,” said Kelli Cook, the Gulf Coast Regional Coordinator for Campaign for Liberty. “This is just double-speak for a tax hike that they claim will save you money. They are hiding the fact they can add those pennies right back where they borrowed them from without voter approval.”
Ginger Russell, a Republican precinct chair who lives in Magnolia ISD, is also skeptical:
“What they don’t tell you is that their own notice of public hearing states they need a tax rate 1.4560 to keep up with their current spending and tax debt. So, to claim that ‘we are not going to raise your tax rate’ is dishonest at best.”
Russell and Cook have been leading the effort to kill the tax hike, going door to door with fliers and putting out signs urging residents to vote no. They hope that by engaging voters door to door, they can beat Old Magnolia’s political machine.
However, turnout for the August 14 election is expected to be low. Scheduling special elections for odd dates, instead of on uniform election dates in May and November, is a common tactic used by local government entities. Government employees, who have a financial interest, are turned out to vote, while the entities hope that proposed tax hikes and bonds will fly under the radar for others. Officials often fear that their proposed tax hikes would be less likely to be approved by a larger electorate in a regular general election.
While Magnolia ISD is claiming they need the extra revenue, the district in fact has a massive spending problem. The district is currently $313 million in debt, according to the Texas Comptroller’s website. Superintendent Todd Stephens is paid more than the governor, with an annual salary of $233,519.
“Magnolia residents already pay as much as 67% of their tax bill to the schools,” said Cook. “Magnolia ISD doesn’t have a revenue problem- they have a spending problem!”
Early voting is July 30- August 4 and August 6-10. Election Day is Tuesday, August 14, from 7:00AM to 7:00PM. A list of the voting locations, which are different than usual, can be found here.