JUDGE: Proposed tax cap would further limit county services
For years our Texas Legislature has required counties to provide certain services for the citizens of the county such as indigent health care and indigent counsel. However, the legislature does not provide funding for its mandates. Thus, the county must pay for these services with its own funds. Now the legislature is attempting to cap the amount of county taxing!
A tax cap sounds good, but this one would further limit the services the county provides. The mandated services are good ones, such as health care for the indigent. We have an excellent county health care program, but this costs our Milam County taxpayers. Our indigent counsel program provides a lawyer for an indigent person charged with a crime. However, this too costs the County money, which is paid for out of county taxes. I am not suggesting that we curtail or eliminate these programs, but simply that the State help fund them.
For years, county government has opposed unfunded mandates, but yet they continue. For example, a law was recently passed that requires our county jail to provide a prompt psychological assessment to an inmate who alleges to have a mental disorder. Good idea, but again Milam County pays the bill and not the State. Now we have to deal with a proposed taxing cap of 2.5 percent of the effective tax rate. This means the county will be required to continue to provide for the indigent but will be limited to how much it can tax.
If the law passes, our county would undoubtedly have to cut services that are not mandated, such as maintenance of county roads. Last year, the county made significant budget reductions in all departments, including the budget of each Commissioner due to the tax loss of Alcoa and Luminant. In addition, the County raised ad valorem taxes by 3 cents to make ends meet. The State should not have its cake and eat it too. Either, we need to have control of the programs we provide, or the State should send money to fund what is mandated!
Your Commissioners Court passed a resolution in opposition to the proposed law and last week I went to Austin with other County Judges to lobby against the proposals. I will be back in Austin on Monday to testify against those provisions in SB 2 and HB 2. Your State Representative Terry Wilson and Senator Schwertner are concerned about the impact the bill would have on Milam County and I am sure they would like to hear from you. Please know that unfunded mandates and taxing caps will not help Milam County. In the meantime, I will fight to keep our cake!