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a u s t
i n c h r o n
i c
l e
. c om
JULY 25, 2014
“There’s a nice knock-down argument for
you!” – Humpty Dumpty
Article 8 of the Texas Constitution pro-
vides that “Taxation shall be equal and uni-
form,” a good place to start any discussion of
property tax reform. Across Texas, there are
plenty of people agitating for “reforms” of
the property tax system, although
as in most such discussions, the
word “reform” can be as mal-
leable as Humpty Dumpty’s
definition of “glory.” And
since property taxes pro-
vide one solid leg of the
state’s revenue system –
especially precious for
public schools – it’s not
an idle discussion.
To some, property tax
“reform” means one thing
– “cut my bill.” To a growing
number of state Republicans, it
has come to mean “abolish property
taxes altogether” – although they grow
vague when they try to describe how to pay
for education, health care, transportation,
and everything else.
Last week, the Travis County Democratic
Party held a morning forum on property
tax reform, headlined by county commis-
sioner candidate Brigid Shea and state
comptroller candidate Mike Collier. Shea
didn’t evoke any dissent when she
described the property tax system as “bro-
ken,” and Collier cited the constitution in
emphasizing that property is supposed
to be assessed for taxation pur-
poses at market value – “equal
and uniform” – “so that’s
the only place to start.”
The issue statewide
is that commercial and
industrial property is
assessed at a much
lower value than most
residential property – by
some estimates, at an
average of 60% of its actu-
al market value. Most home-
owners get hit for close to
100%, creating an imbalance that
Shea said is “literally driving people out
of their homes.” In theory, that means we
should be able to lessen the pressure on
homeowners if commercial owners were
paying their fair share. And also as usual,
the devil is in the details.
the hightower report
all but illegal
j a n a b i r c h u m
travis County Dems and battleground texas teamed up July 19 for a campaign kickoff and town hall,
drawing no shortage of wendy Davis supporters like Saul gonzalez.
All the King’s Horses
The devil in The properTy Tax deTails
continued on p.12
City Hall’s summer break is nearly done –
budget work sessions resume July 31,
and the following week (Aug. 7) the regular meet-
ing will take up budget issues as well as the
major rail and bond decision for November.
Meanwhile, the first
campaign finance reports
for November’s historic
Council election
were posted last week, and the official filing peri-
od for office opened July 21 (through Aug. 18).
As of Wednesday morning, a handful of the near-
ly 70 declared candidates had filed.
Travis Central Appraisal District
is asking
County Commissioners for a $2.9 million budget
increase to help the agency improve its apprais-
al process in light of mounting concern over
potential inequities in the appraisal system.
In response to the refugee crisis at the Mexican
border, Gov.
Rick Perry
announced Monday he
would be deploying 1,000
National Guard
to the Texas border to join the
Department of Public Safety surge called
“Operation Strong Safety.” The governor didn’t
say if the troops would employ a “Cover 2”
defense or blitz their linebackers.
Texas Ethics Commission
Quinn Sullivan
, head of right-wing think tank
Empower Texans, guilty of failing to register as a
lobbyist while he was working to influence legis-
lation in 2010 and 2011. Slapped with a maxi-
mum fine of $10,000, the conservative activist
continues to argue the disclosure law is uncon-
stitutional, and intends to appeal the ruling in
district court.
This week, President
Barack Obama
signed an
executive order banning workplace discrimina-
tion for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender
federal contract workers and federal government
employees. While the order covers 28 million
workers, it does not extend to all employees
nationwide. The order does not provide exemp-
tions for religious entities.
Affordable Care Act
was dealt a blow
Tuesday when the D.C. U.S. Court of Appeals
ruled that the government cannot subsidize
insurance bought through the federal market-
place. In Texas, the ruling could end assistance
for as many as 1.6 million policy-holders by
2016. A separate ruling from a Virginia federal
court, however, affirmed the subsidies.
Thumb on the Scales
Collier, the Houston CPA who’s barn-
storming the state on his “Texas Watchdog
Tour,” identified three basic problems with
the current appraisal system: the definition
of “comparable properties” in determining
market value, the confidentiality of sales
prices, and (really an umbrella issue) the
power of money in appraisal negotiations.
Commercial owners routinely appeal every
valuation (the percentage is roughly 90%),
appraisers can’t certainly know what prop-
erties have been sold for, and should they
lose a disputed judgment, appraisers pay
the legal fees – not so the property owners,
a perfect incentive for appraisers to capitu-
late to well-funded legal teams.
Collier acknowledged that fixing any of
that would require legislative action – but
of the
“I want them to work
politically for change.
I want them asking the
deeper questions.”
– Rev. Sid Hall, Trinity United
Methodist Church, on exhorting
his congregation to help
Central American refugees.