The County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas continues to support alternative county revenue sources during each legislative session. These proposals range from an expanded local option sales tax, to an increase in the local option vehicle registration fees, to local options for a variety of user fees for county services. Successes in these efforts have been few and difficult to achieve, usually limited to fee increases. Some may have questioned why we continue to pursue these options for counties when special interests and some taxpayer groups withhold their support. As we approach county budget time and another legislative session, this topic is worth a review.
Most county revenue is currently derived from the property tax. It is the only source of additional revenue under the control of the Commissioners Court. While Texas consistently ranks as a low-tax state overall, our reliance on property taxes for schools, counties, cities, and special districts has pushed us into the top one-third in property taxes. Whenever additional unfunded mandates require county funding, the property tax must be increased. The effects of ordinary inflation in the cost of county services must also be funded by the property tax. While the state budget benefits from inflation through additional sales taxes without notice to the taxpayers, the county must publish notice and conduct hearings before assessing any taxes to offset these mandatory costs. No wonder that the property tax is no longer a viable method to fund the increased cost of local government.
Taxpayers have consistently indicated a preference for alternatives to the property tax. Nevertheless, the Legislature is extremely reluctant to empower local officials with these options, preferring to keep counties dependent upon them for even the most minimal increases in user fees. While the virtues of local control are often extolled at campaign time, they lose their appeal when legislators consider releasing the purse strings. This reluctance is intensified when taxpayer groups insist on labeling every local option revenue proposal as a tax increase. The meager support that trickles from Austin to counties is usually overloaded with administrative burdens and policy limitations.
Texas Commissioners Court members are steadfastly conservative stewards of the public trust. Our budgets are consistently rated the most efficient and effective by taxpayers and professional analysts. However, our ability to respond to the legitimate needs of our constituents will remain constricted by the over-burdened property tax until we are able to persuade the Legislature to adopt measures that transform the rhetoric of local control into reality. Please continue to carry this message.
For more information, please call me at 1-800-733-0699.