Most big-government Republicans try to hide their anti-taxpayer ways, so in that regard Hugh Shine’s ugly honesty might be commendable. Yet that will be little consolation for taxpayers suffering under one of the nation’s most oppressive property tax schemes. And the way he frames the issue around a series of bald-faced lies eclipses the pretense of goodwill.
A mainstay of conservative tax reform has been to rein in the property tax system so taxpayers are more able to hold accountable the many local taxing entities that reach into their pockets. Under current law, taxing entities – from counties and cities, to hospital and water districts, and all other special purpose districts in between – can demand higher and higher tribute be paid by property owners with virtually no recourse. The system of appraising properties – the more important side of the equation that produces the final tax bill – is complicated, lacks transparency, and favors the taxing entities that control it.
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Harris County) tried to level the playing field by offering a substantive tax reform measure, Senate Bill 2, which was endorsed by the lieutenant governor and has been praised by the governor. The bill would have required local entities to automatically seek voter approval if they sought to raise taxes by more than five percent. The end result would be that tax-and-spend bureaucrats at the local level would no longer be able to simply turn on the tax-funded faucet every time they needed to fill up their coffers to pay for frivolous spending.
The measure never saw the light of day in the Texas House, where an obstructionist House leadership driven by liberal Republicans and backed by Democrats sought to kill any reform measure threatening to limit how deeply local bureaucrats can reach into citizens’ pocketbooks.
Since the session ended, Gov. Greg Abbott has said he is reconvening the Legislature in mid-July to – among other things – bring about property tax reform.
Yet State Rep. Shine (R-Temple) is doubling down on opposition to that very reform. In an article published by the Temple Daily Telegram, Shine claims that SB2 was “sold out of the Senate as a property tax relief bill.”
That’s untrue. From the beginning, Bettencourt, other senators, and Lt. Gov. Patrick lamented that all they could offer was reform, because the House was intractably and publicly opposed to property tax relief measures.
Shine says his opposition to the measure was based on worrying that taxing entities would have to spend time and money defending their bloat to voters and taxpayers.
Ironically, Shine said his goal was to force “transparency out there so people could understand their property tax statement better.” He explicitly notes he refuses to work for property tax relief, or any substantial changes to the property tax system.
The Temple lawmaker wants to make sure that taxing entities and appraisal districts are happy with any proposed reforms before voting on them.
But you can bet they won’t be thrilled with the changes SB 2 would impose, given the boastful nature by which City of Temple officials proudly announce increases in property tax revenues within their budget. The city recently proclaimed their new budget “will raise more revenue from property taxes than last year’s budget by an amount of $1,780,804, which is a 7.50% increase from last year’s budget.”
Nearby, a City of Belton budget illustration perfectly lays out the “struggle” local officials endure whilst searching for ways to spend more taxpayer dollars.
Source: City of Belton Annual Budget Reports
How Shine will reconcile his hostility to taxpayers with the explicit position of the Republican Party or Texas’ platform, and Gov. Abbott’s special session, remains to be seen.
Empower Texans’ budget and policy analyst, Sal Ayala, also contributed to this article.