Tax Hikes When You Least Expect Them

Texans have become accustomed to voting in general elections in May and November, but Tax Ratification Elections – votes that explicitly hike property taxes – often are not held on a uniform election date. School districts are making a mockery of laws intended to increase transparency in taxation by holding TRE’s when the public isn’t expecting them – attempting to create safe-havens from voters’ busy lives.

Texas has two uniform general election dates each year. The obvious one is in November – when Texans are already prepared to head to the polls to choose their new federal and state officeholders, or vote on constitutional amendments.

The other is in May. Typically only school board, city council, and bond elections are held at this time. While we as taxpayers have an obligation to educate ourselves on election dates and the issues at hand, the reality is that voter turnout in May is downright dismal compared to November. While 50-60% turnout is typical for a presidential election, 10% turnout in May is par for the course.

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School districts have taken advantage of the legal window to set tax ratification election dates when voters are least likely to expect them.

But Tax Ratification Elections – elections that explicitly hike your property taxes –are not held on any uniform date, and school districts have been taking advantage.

Texas requires school districts to hold an election when seeking to hike property taxes higher than the “rollback tax rate” – determined by a complicated formula designed to protect taxpayers from excessive property tax hikes. But those same laws do not specify a specific date when that vote should take place – only requiring the election to be held between 30 and 90 days after the school board adopts the rate.

Naturally, school districts have taken advantage of the legal window to set election dates when voters are least likely to expect them.

Take Reagan County ISD for example. They held their TRE on June 16th (a Saturday), a month after the May uniform election date. Crowley ISD held their tax rate on September 12th – a Wednesday.

Mullin ISD and La Marque ISD are holding their TRE’s after the November elections this year – on December 15th, when virtually nobody is thinking of voting.

In fact, only three of the 42 school districts that have held or will hold TRE’s this year are conducting them on Nov. 6th,, when voters are already heading to their polling places.

Holding elections that have explicit implications on voters’ wallets at times when no taxpayer is reasonably expecting to vote is irresponsible at best, and disingenuous at worst. Yes, taxpayers should do their due diligence to stay informed, but Democracy works best when everyone participates. Demanding school districts call elections on uniform dates is a small but crucial step towards ensuring maximum voter participation and responsible governing.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dustin Matocha is the Executive Director of Empower Texans. Dustin graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BBA in Management, a BA in Government, and a minor in Marketing. He’s a self-described Corvette enthusiast, baseball purist, tech geek and growing connoisseur of local craft beer.

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