For now, Gov. Abbott’s latest property tax proposal is little more than a campaign pitch. But it raises the stakes on this year’s elections because if the governor were to muster enough legislative votes to enact something like this, it would be a disaster for a host of important local services, beginning with public schools.
If you are paying high property taxes – and many Texans are – the primary culprits are Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and their legislative allies, not your local school board, your county commissioners court or your city council. And here is why.
The main reason local property taxes continue to increase is because the state refuses to adequately fund public education, and the situtation has grown worse under Abbott and Patrick’s watch. No amount of denial or attempted buck-passing from Abbott or Patrick is going to change that fact.
In 2014, the year Abbott and Patrick were elected to their current jobs, the state paid 45 percent of the Foundation School Program, and local property taxpayers paid 55 percent, according to the Legislative Budget Board. This year, the state’s share has dropped to 40 percent, while property taxpayers have seen their share increase to 60 percent. Next year, the state’s share is expected to decline even further to 38 percent, while local taxpayers will be paying 62 percent. Meanwhile,enrollment in Texas public schools will continue to increase by more than 80,000 students every year.
The state paid $2,555 less than the national average per student in 2016-17, ranking Texas 36th among the states and the District of Columbia in that important category.
Two times last year, once during the regular session and again in the summer special session, Speaker Joe Straus and the House approved legislation to increase state funding. But each time, Patrick, aided and abetted by Abbott, led the Senate to reject the House plan in favor of ripping off state tax dollars for private school vouchers.
Now, as he did last year, Abbott proposes clamping down on the ability of local governments to raise property taxes to pay for needed services. This proposal, however, is worse. It would place a 2.5 percent cap on annual revenue growth from property taxes and, this time, it would apply to school districts as well as cities, counties and other local governments.
It would lead to a reduction in critical local services, particularly in fast-growth areas, and it would worsen the plight of already under-funded school districts, forcing cuts in instructional programs as school enrollments climb.
Abbott made vague references about exceptions for law enforcement and teacher pay raises, and he said his plan may require the state to increase its share of education funding. But he offered no state funding plan, and he has a history of fighting against school finance improvements. As TSTA President Noel Candelaria has pointed out, the governor needs to “show us the money.”
Instead, Abbott is more likely to use his anti-government, anti-public education allies to try to force Republican legislators and legislative candidates to pledge their support of Abbott’s plan in the Republican primary, where many critical legislative races will be decided.
It will require political courage for some Republican candidates who truly value their public schools to defy the governor and his well-funded allies, and that makes it essential for educators to make an adequately funded public education system their top voting priority. Vote Education First!
Remember, elections have consequences, and not only in the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s offices. With Straus’ decision to retire, the election of a new speaker is at stake in the House elections. Under Straus’ leadership, the House tried to increase education funding last year and has repeatedly shut the door on private school vouchers.
The upcoming elections, beginning with the party primaries, will determine what kind of speaker succeeds Straus and whether this half-baked proposal by the governor will become law.
“We must rein in property tax growth,” Abbott said.
Let’s do it, governor. But let’s do it the right way, with more state education funding. Tell the governor that – with your votes.