LISD’s Surratt: Abbott tax proposal doesn’t address school finance

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A proposal from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to cap revenue growth of state taxing entities such as cities, school districts and counties at 2.5 percent was greeted with skepticism from Lindale ISD Superintendent Stan Surratt.

The governor, who is running for re-election, announced this past week he will ask the state Legislature to put the 2.5 percent limit on local taxing entities as a part of his 33-page property tax reform plan.

In a news release the governor said Texans are in danger of losing their homes and must be given some type of relief.

“With the skyrocketing rise in property taxes, more and more Texans face the risk of being forced out of the homes they have lived in for decades,” he said.

“Young families who are just starting out are having trouble affording their first home and businesses are unable to grow and hire more workers. Enough is enough.”

If approved, Abbott’s tax proposal would take effect in 2021.

The proposal would, if approved, put more pressure on lawmakers to find money for public education. This, said Surratt, is pretty much business as usual.

Surratt has long been a critic of state lawmakers’ reluctance to find a long-term solution to fund education.

“It’s the same as it’s always been,’’ Surratt said. “Funding for public education is not adequate. There needs to be more commitment in that area…we need more equal funding for Texas children. It simply isn’t a priority.’’

Property tax relief has been one of Abbott’s top priorities, but even so the GOP-controlled Legislature hasn’t been able to pass any measures because they are leery of hindering local control of tax revenue.

A property tax plan wasn’t passed last year, despite lawmakers having to go into special session after the regular session ended in May.

The House and Senate couldn’t agree on what percentage increase in the property tax rate would require voter approval, with the House wanting to limit hikes to 6 percent and the Senate wanting a 4 percent cap.

Fast-growing areas, such as Lindale, could find themselves hampered by a cap that would limit how much revenue could be generated.

“It’s almost comical that legislators are the ones that are causing taxes to be lower, but they are using that extra revenue for other projects and not public education,’’ Surratt said. “When we get new businesses and homes built we get new revenue in Lindale, then the (LISD board) can bring down the rate. When we get new values, we tax those at our tax rate but the state takes away from that and we aren’t getting that extra revenue.’’

Surratt also looks at Abbott’s announcement of his tax plan as politically motivated.

“(The plan) is one of those things that captures headlines and isn’t really effective,’’ Surratt said. “It’s right before the primary election (in March) and there’s no (legislative) session planned for a year. I really question the timing of this plan.’’

Other highlights of Abbott’s property tax proposal include:

-- Prohibiting the Legislature from imposing unfunded mandates on local jurisdictions;

-- Improving the rights of property owners in the tax appraisal and protest process;

-- Improving the transparency of local debt and prohibit debt from being used for non-specified purposes;

-- Improving property tax transparency by requiring the Texas comptroller’s office to develop and maintain a comprehensive database of property tax rates.

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