I don’t know the story behind the clean two-story home on Goldfinch Lane in Montgomery County. But I know enough. Soon, attorneys will sell the property on the fourth floor of the Commissioners Court Building in Conroe. In this white-hot real estate market, it will likely to go investors.
What it means is that at some point, a family couldn’t keep up with the property taxes. And now the foreclosed home, valued at $171,180, will go to the highest bidder in the county’s monthly tax sale. Did it involve an illness? A death? It doesn’t matter now.
This is a threat that hangs over every homeowner in Texas—and every business owner who holds the title to the property they do business on. Texans will never experience the peace of mind that comes with owning their homes until property taxes are eliminated. Until then, Texans are simply renting their homes from the government, always with the fear that taxes could become so exorbitant they can no longer afford to stay.
But we have a plan. Our “Lower Taxes, Better Texas” plan will eliminate property taxes for every Texan by 2033 (or sooner), while also making structural changes to our system that prevent year-to-year spikes in tax bills. At the same time, we’ll rein in irresponsible local government spending.
Texans need and want real property tax reform. In recent polls, 82% of Texans said property taxes are a serious issue and 7 out of 10 said they would be upset if the current legislative session ended with nothing done to lower their property tax bill.
Even the media agrees.
“Older Texans on fixed incomes, even those with senior exemptions and freezes, too often end up being priced out of their homes,” a recent Dallas Morning News editorial noted. “Young first-time homebuyers are priced out of homeownership and stay in apartments where monthly rents are rivaling monthly mortgages.”
How does our Lower Taxes, Better Texas plan work? It’s a three-pronged approach.
It begins with controlling the driving force behind tax hikes—increased spending. The Legislature has already enacted a new spending limit based on a formula using population growth and inflation, and any surplus general revenue must first be used to reduce property taxes. This surplus can be used to buy down school district maintenance and operations (M&O) taxes.
And that’s the second prong: Lawmakers now must pass Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 90, which will ensure that those surpluses are used to buy down property taxes now, and in the future. SB 1 would spend the current surplus on property taxes, and with this precedent, HB 90 would require that future Legislatures allocate at least 90% of any future surplus to the same cause.
Finally, legislators should pass House Bill 91 (with a few key amendments). We must redesign the state’s tax code so that local governments are funded primarily by sales taxes. This redesign would broaden the base of goods and services covered by the sales tax while lowering the rate. The result would be to finally eliminate school M&O taxes after years of cutting them.
Critics say lower-income Texas families would be hurt by reliance on sales taxes, but they fail to consider that we all pay property taxes—even if we’re renters. Higher property taxes get passed along—property owners aren’t in the rental business to lose money. And a slight broadening of the sales tax base will allow us to keep the exemptions—such as food and medicines—that make sense for Texas families.
Besides, once property taxes are eliminated, that surplus can then used to buy down sales taxes.
In September, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott added property tax reform to the third Special Session agenda. Legislators can act now to ensure Texans can keep their homes for generations to come.
I’ll probably never know why that Montgomery County home sits empty. But by itself, it tells a story—one we must work to ensure doesn’t get repeated again and again. Let’s stop taxing Texans out of their homes.
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Vance Ginn, Ph.D.