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Willing to give up some sales tax exemptions to pay for a cut in your local property taxes?
That proposition, from state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, is the first serious stab at a statewide property tax cut in the current Texas legislative session.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate are already working on legislation designed to slow the growth of property taxes. But those bills, pushed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House, wouldn’t lower existing taxes; instead, they would require voter approval for tax revenue increases of more than 2.5 percent.
Springer wants cuts. But it would cost a small fortune, more than $6 billion a year, and he’s a Republican, and he certainly doesn’t want to try to persuade a conservative Legislature to raise taxes. He wouldn’t actually cut them, either: He’s proposing a swap, cutting local school property taxes by getting rid of some popular exemptions to state taxes.
Springer wants to raise $6.4 billion a year, mostly by getting rid of sales tax exemptions and rules that are in current law. The list has some darlings on it — popular exemptions that might be hard sells in the Legislature and in lawmakers’ districts. Springer would tax sales of motor fuel, on top of existing gasoline taxes; over-the-counter and nonprescription drugs; “non-nutritional” foods, like potato chips, coffee and tea; newspapers and magazines; cuts and stylings at beauty and barber shops; and auto maintenance and repair. The proposal would also end things like prompt payment discounts for retailers remitting sales taxes and the loophole for hybrid and electric vehicle registrations.
Each of those things has a constituency: sometimes a mob of people who’d be affected, sometimes a small group of powerful people who would lose a business advantage.
Previous runs at sales tax exemptions have fallen to pieces under resistance from taxpayers — or, to be more precise, nontaxpayers — who benefit.
But with his other hand, Springer is offering prizes for property taxpayers. Springer says he would give a 50-percent homestead exemption on school property taxes, exempt retail inventories from property taxes and use the balance to “compress” school property taxes by 10 cents — or to 90 cents per $100 property valuation, whichever is higher.
His legislation hasn’t been filed yet, but Springer says the average Texas homeowner’s property taxes would be cut by $1,400. This is a good time to remember the last time state lawmakers spent a bunch of money and promised big cuts in property taxes. The savings promised by then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2006 was $2,000 per homeowner. It didn’t work out to be anywhere in that vicinity when the accounting was all in, and that experience has made some lawmakers skittish about promising property tax relief.
Springer apparently isn’t one of those. He also says his idea would lower the number of districts that pay locally raised property tax money to the state — a system called “recapture” by the education experts and “Robin Hood” in most political town-hall meetings. He also projects that the state would carry a bigger load of public education spending than locals as a result.
If this was a commercial for a new prescription drug, it would have to carry some fine print at the bottom. Something like this:
May cause commercial and industrial property owners who don’t receive the full benefits to revolt, or throw up, or throw up and then revolt; depression among renters who might see no benefits at all in return for their higher sales taxes; a sudden descent on the Texas Capitol by car dealers, auto shop owners, and people with scissors and hair dyes; angst among car owners paying a sales tax on top of a gasoline tax when they fill up; and tears to the eyes of the kids who grab a bag of chips on the way home from school every day.
The plan could ease the pain of property taxpayers. The question is whether this — or other proposals like it that might be in the works — are worth the new pains they cause.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated a proposal to lower school property taxes; the legislation would compress those taxes by 10 cents, or to 90 cents per $100 property valuation, whichever is higher.