Nearly every major city and county government in Texas spends well beyond what the average taxpayer can afford, according to a series of new research papers on local government spending by the Texas Public Policy Foundation. As a result, over the last decade the typical family of four has paid thousands of dollars in taxes over what the state considers to be a reasonable increase.
(Individual reports linked below)
“Major cities and counties in Texas are spending huge sums that are wildly out of step with what many taxpayers can afford to pay,” said Dr. Vance Ginn, TPPF’s Chief Economist and co-author of the series. “The data should be a huge red flag that we are heading toward unsustainable spending growth and tax increases that kill jobs, punish families, and drive people and businesses out of the state.”
TPPF defines reasonable spending growth as no more than population growth plus inflation. The state of Texas has followed this spending limit for state budgets for several biennia and officially adopted most of it into state statute in the last legislative session. City and county budgets are currently under no obligation to follow this reasonable spending limit.
“Responsible Local Budgets (RLB) would promote efficiency and prudence with taxpayer money, creating less need for higher taxes and fees, but still provide all the funding needed for critical government functions,” said James Quintero, TPPF’s Policy Director for the Government for the People campaign and co-author of the research. “Taxpayers would love to see local governments voluntarily adopt these spending limits, but, as long as cities and counties continue their spending binge, it may be necessary for state lawmakers to impose strict parameters to protect taxpayers.”
Over the last decade, Dallas has been the worst offender among cities, spending more than 34% above a responsible spending growth limit. In that time, the average family of four in Dallas paid more than $10,000 in excess taxes. The cities of San Antonio and Austin spent over 16% and 14% higher, respectively, than the average taxpayer’s ability to pay.
Spending growth in Texas’ major counties has been eye-popping. Lubbock County’s spending has grown 66% above a responsible limit, Bexar County by 52%, Travis County by 43%, Dallas County by 40%, and Tarrant County by 27%. Only Brownsville spent under the growth limit during the decade.
Harris County takes the prize as the worst of all local governments by exceeding a responsible spending limit by 114%.
“Now it is time to rein in excessive government spending growth at the local level,” Ginn and Quintero write. “We urge local governments to voluntarily adopt these taxpayer protections. Because some may not, we recommend that the Texas Legislature pass a spending limit for all other local governments that includes all spending from any revenue source, restricts expenditure growth to a maximum of state population growth plus inflation from the prior year, and requires a two-thirds supermajority vote by the local governing body to exceed the limit.”
“Limiting the growth of these budgets to population growth plus inflation with the RLBs outlined here will help ensure these localities can be vibrant places for people to prosper.”
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.