Why are my property taxes so high?

In the early 1960s in Texas, homeowner paid lower property taxes on their homes than homeowners in 45 other states. Currently, Texas property taxes are among the highest in the nation. There are several reasons for this change.

First of all, the phoney “no new taxes” mantra, which has been the by-word of politicians seeking a seat in the Texas Legislature, has led to higher and higher taxes on your homestead as well as higher fees for almost everything you can imagine.

In the 1940s when the Legislature made a serious commitment to public education, our state was paying more than 65 percent of the cost of public education. Today, the state pays just of 30 percent, with the rest of the cost of public education borne by local property taxes on your home and business.While the mantra of “no new taxes” at the state legislative levels is one of the villains in escalating property taxes, it certainly is not the only one. Another culprit is the increasing number of exemptions. While admittedly many good arguments can be made for every exemption from property taxes on the books, they do in fact, each and every one, increase the taxes on your home or business. One of the larger exemption games is the one played to supposedly attract new businesses to a particular area. Too often large exemptions from taxation are offered to an industry or business to locate to a particular area. Not only does such an exemption add an additional tax burden to the local folks who do not have exemptions, but in many instances, it is downright unfair to many of the local businesses. A prime example of such is the huge exemption from taxation given to the giant Cabela’s store in Kyle, Texas, a small town just outside of Austin. While Cabela’s built a mega-sporting goods store and created some jobs, it certainly did not benefit local mom and pop shops that sold rod and reels or fishing gear. In fact it forced the mom and pop shops that sell sporting goods, hunting clothing, archery equipment, etc. to help finance a major competitor that likely will put them out of business.

The city of Port Arthur granted huge tax breaks for major refining operations in the area. Theoretically, had the city not done so, refinery expansions would have gone to some other location. Also, the exemption of charitable or religious organizations adds to the tax burden. While I realize I’m now treading on sacred ground to even dare suggest the Baptist Church, the VFW or the American Legion facilities be taxed, just imagine how much we could lower the average homeowner’s tax bill could be were we willing to tax everything. As a matter of fact, a good argument could be made that it is unfair for an atheist to help subsidize churches he does not believe in.

Recently, the state Legislature folded into law what I consider one of the most egregious tax breaks ever enacted. In the recent session, the Legislature gave tax exemptions on Chamber of Commerce buildings. The theory presented was that businessmen in a community pay lots of taxes; therefore, a building dedicated to promoting business should not be taxed. This appears to me to be an extremely dangerous trend. What’s next? Should union halls be taxed? If all lawyers in a community got together and created a Taj Mahal to promote the law business in a particular county, should it be taxed?If you’re tired of your taxes continuing to go up year after year, maybe it’s time you, as a citizen and homeowner or business owner, begin to ask your elected officials about some of these matters. Even better, we should all, as citizens, begin to ask our elected officials, particularly, those in the Legislature, to at least start having open discussions and explore new ideas of fair ways to support the essential services of government. Currently, the subject of taxation or raising revenue is such a taboo that the only political conversation we hear at election time is how we can balance our budget by simply cutting out the waste. Invariably, what I consider waste is someone else’s necessity. A good example of this is the Texas leadership’s shortchanging of our children’s future by cutting education funding and endangering women by abolishing vital services to screen for cancer and other serious illnesses.

Carl Parker has practiced law in Port Arthur since 1958. He is a 1958 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. Elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1962 and the Senate in 1976, Parker continued to practice law while writing and sponsoring hundreds of bills that became laws relating to every aspect of life in Texas.