According to a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, voters in the Lone Star State believe that property taxes are too high and the state is not spending enough on public education.
The majority of Texas voters are of the opinion that they pay too much in property taxes. Only 5 percent said they pay too little, and 26 percent said the property tax burden is just right. Among Democrats, 45 percent believe they pay too much. Sixty-three percent of independents and 59 percent of Republicans also believe property taxes are too high.
On the question of public education, 50 percent of Texans think the state spends too little. Property taxes are one of the principal ways public education is funded in Texas. This was a major point of contention during the 2019 session of the Texas Legislature.
The concerns of Texas taxpayers are warranted. Texas has made a name for itself by having no income tax, which has been a major selling point that policymakers have used to attract business and new residents. Nevertheless, the lack of an income tax has not fully contained politicians’ desire to raise tax revenues in other ways.
According to Ross Kecseg of the conservative website Texas Scorecard, Texan households must shoulder, on average, a tax burden that is sixty percent higher than that of other states without income taxes. On the property tax front, the picture looks bleaker when comparing Texas to other states with no or very low income taxes. Texas households pay 83 percent higher property taxes than households in Washington, 102 percent higher taxes than in Nevada, 213 percent higher than in Wyoming, and more than 230 percent higher than taxpayers in Tennessee. Rising property taxes have been a feature in Texas politics over the past decade. James Quintero of the Texas Public Policy Foundation pointed this out when he revealed that statewide property taxes have climbed by 60 percent in the last decade. Texas’ rising property tax rates have clearly outstripped the population growth, which was 19 percent in the observed period.
To get to the bottom of the property tax burden problem, Texas will have to address education spending. Education researchers Vance Ginn and Trey Berthelot of the Texas Public Policy Foundation discovered that education spending has increased by 7.6 percent from 2004 to 2016. Further, as spending has increased in the education sector, bureaucratic bloat has inevitably followed. From the fiscal year of 1993 to the fiscal year of 2015, student enrollment at public schools in Texas grew by 48 percent while non-teaching staff swelled by 66 percent and teachers grew by only 56 percent. In that time, there has not been an observable increase in the quality of education. Texas should start considering other options such as school choice and measures that begin to insert market dynamics into the education sector. Ideally, there would be a steady transition towards a private education model. By going the private route, children will not only have more educational options in front of them, but education reform will also save taxpayers a considerable amount of money. There are many elderly homeowners who have no kids and people without a personal connection to public education who are effectively subsidizing the education of others.
Education reform is not only a question of expanding options for students but also of promoting social equity.