By: Senator Paul Bettencourt
Published in the San Antonio Express News
Throughout the state of Texas, there are two things taxpayers can all agree on: Property tax bills are too high, and they are growing too quickly. For example, in San Antonio, between 2005 and 2014, city tax levies have grown 55 percent, while median household income has grown only 22 percent. In other words, an average family faces a tax bill that is increasing 2½ times as fast as income. This is unsustainable by any measure.
The Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief is charged by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to study the property tax process, including the appraisal system, and recommend ways to promote transparency, simplicity and accountability by all taxing entities, as well as examine and develop options to reduce the tax burden on property owners.
A recent column in the San Antonio Express-News by Josh Brodesky stated that certain public opinions were falling on deaf ears. This is simply not true as our hearing in San Antonio had record attendance, with one committee member, Sen. Eddie Lucio, commenting that it was the highest turnout for any hearing outside of the capital in the 29 years he has been in office. The committee heard almost six hours of testimony, from 50 individuals, with the vast majority asking for tax relief, not more spending at the local level. Our committee is traveling the state for the purpose of hearing from local people about how this issue impacts them, and we are hearing their message of tax relief loud and clear.
Testimony given by officials from the city of San Antonio at the committee hearing was that the average home value in the city was $147,000. Additionally, they testified there was a 10.7 percent increase in tax levies for the last year. Based on this testimony and after taking into account a 1.34 percent tax rate cut, the average homeowner in San Antonio saw just his or her city tax bill increase by 9.2 percent, and 9.7 percent including the county portion, in just a single year.
In Bexar County, Tax Assessor Collector Albert Uresti indicated that the county increased property tax revenues by 12 percent from 2014 to 2015, from $350 million to $392 million, an increase of $42 million in just one year. Bexar County stayed below the official 8 percent rollback rate, which means that 4 to 5 percent of the increase in revenue is from new properties, because new construction is exempt from the calculations, along with first-time homestead exemptions. Taxpayers should know, we had a lengthy debate with County Commissioner Tommy Calvert on whether this year’s almost 10 percent increase on homes actually constituted a tax increase.
The bottom line is that in San Antonio and throughout Texas, property tax levies are growing at a pace 2½ to three times faster than median household income. Taxpayers cannot continue to sustain these tax increases. The Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief will continue to look for solutions to this problem as we travel the state to hold hearings and listen to concerns of both community leaders and ordinary taxpaying Texans. Our next hearing will be in Lubbock on Monday.
Sen. Paul Bettencourt is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief.