By The Dallas Morning News
Gov. Greg Abbott will ask the Legislature to pass a property tax reform plan that would cap revenue growth in school districts, cities and counties at 2.5 percent a year. So what’s not to like about this proposal?
It surely will be politically popular and is likely to be the cornerstone of Abbott’s re-election campaign. Yet, while the idea sounds attractive, voters should be aware of what’s driving local tax hikes — for the most part, a decline in the state’s share of funding public schools.
On a per-student basis, the state pays less for public education now than it did 10 years ago. While throwing money at public schools is not the cure-all for problems, it is a factor. The Dallas Independent School District is at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring teachers, who can draw better pay in the suburbs. Additionally, Abbott’s plan is particularly troubling for fast-growing areas needing to build more schools.
The state’s strongest tool for slowing the growth of property taxes is to take the pressure off local districts by raising its share of public education costs. In the last regular session, lawmakers allowed state spending for public education to fall by $1.1 billion, before restoring a few dollars in the special session.
Lawmakers also argued without resolve over a proposed local tax cap with the Senate favoring 4 percent and the House 6 percent. Abbott’s proposal is even more stringent. Whatever happened to traditional Republican orthodoxy that favored local control?
Abbott’s tax cap plan includes one laudable proposal: that the state stop imposing unfunded mandates on local governments. Cities and counties have complained about costs forced on them and then state leaders objecting when taxes go up.
The amount of local tax increase should be for local citizens to determine, and they have a direct role in electing local officials. Additionally, rather than tying the hands of local officials, the state should step up on public education funding.
Abbott is expected to produce an education finance plan before the 2019 session. Let’s wait until we see that proposal before deciding whether to embrace his local tax cap plan.
>> The Dallas Morning News