SB 2 could change revenue caps

By David Barkemeyer

Milam County Judge


The battle at the Texas Legislature this time around has got to be confusing for many of you as it has your own elected officials pitted against each other over the property tax issue and related spending issues as well for that matter.

It starts at the top with the lieutenant governor and comes right down to us local officials including county judges, city officials, and school administrators.  If Senate Bill 2 or some derivative is defeated by the time the sessions ends on the 29th. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has promised to press for a special legislative session, and if one is called by the governor, certain state reps and senators have promised to shove revenue caps “down the throats” of us local officials who have lobbied so hard to block them during the regular session.

The basic issue as I have discussed with you in previous articles has been to impose a restriction on county commissioner’s courts, (and on city councils and possibly school boards as well) on the percentage increase we can raise the tax rate without forcing an election to obtain voter approval, lowering that rate from 8 to 4 percent and making an election to ratify the rate increase automatic.

The idea is that this “revenue cap” will somehow curb or stop property tax increases, the implication being that local official’s actions are the reason property taxes are always going up.  We local officials are arguing that the reason we are forced to increase taxes is that the state legislature keeps adding and expanding mandatory programs that increase costs such as indigent healthcare, indigent defense, jail standards, record keeping requirements, educational programs, and so on that we must pay for locally with ad valorem tax dollars.  We call these unfunded mandates.

As I’ve pointed out in a previous article, some 55 percent of all taxes collected in Texas are ad valorem taxes, and all of these are collected right here in the county to pay for state mandated programs.  What is left over we can use for our local county programs like county roads, law enforcement, and the like.  Yet the state wants to cap how much we can collect.  County governments are already capped at 80 cents and because of our limited tax base we are already at 70 cents here in Milam County, and as I’ve pointed out to you because of our continually shrinking tax base because of the situation with Luminant, we are on the verge of going even higher.

So the solution is not revenue caps, the solution is that the legislature, instead of increasing programs, must cut them, like we have done with our local costs, or pay for them at the state level.  Our state rep Terry Wilson understands our tight situation here in Milam County and has told me he will vote against the revenue cap reduction.

I certainly agree that we need to hold down our tax rate and if possible reduce it in the future.  If they do pass a lower cap rate, we on Commissioner’s Court will do what is necessary to comply, hold the line on local costs, and do everything we can to not exceed any caps that are imposed, and I know that our state representative Terry Wilson is dedicated to fighting unnecessary spending at the state level.