Opinion: Vote no on tax propositions
The May 7 election includes more than candidates for the city council and school board.
There are two propositions in a special Constitutional Amendment election which, if passed, would lower the amount of taxes property owners pay to school districts.
If you don’t support public education, this op-ed probably isn’t for you. If you do, well, hear me out. I’d like to encourage you to vote no.
You hopefully received a mailer from the Texas Secretary of State, as I did about a month ago, explaining the propositions. In case you didn’t, the text is posted below. It’s legalese at its worst, so hang in there for the plain language explanation that follows.
Proposition 1 will appear on the ballot as follows: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for the reduction of the amount of a limitation on the total amount of ad valorem taxes that may be imposed for general elementary and secondary public school purposes on the residence homestead of a person who is elderly or disabled to reflect any statutory reduction from the preceding tax year in the maximum compressed rate of the maintenance and operations taxes imposed for those purposes on the homestead.”
Proposition 2 will appear on the ballot as follows: “The constitutional amendment increasing the amount of the residence homestead exemption from ad valorem taxation for public school purposes from $25,000 to $40,000.”
In short, Proposition 1 lowers a portion of the school’s tax rate for those who are elderly or disabled, and Proposition 2 increases the homestead exemption for school taxes from $25,000 to $40,000.
I first reported on the homestead exemption last October following the end of the third special session of the Texas Legislature. At that time, I learned from our local tax office that 2,114 homestead exemptions had been filed in the Alpine school district. The $15,000 increase would save Alpine taxpayers about $176 each a year, but when multiplied by 2,114, the district will lose about $372,000 a year.
When the bill was passed, the Legislature voted to reimburse public school districts for that cost, but only committed to do so for the first year. What happens after that is anyone’s guess, but since most Texas school districts are already operating at the top of the maximum tax rate, it likely includes cutting resources.
The vote, by the way, must pass with a majority of the state; in other words, if any county votes in favor of them, but the majority of Texans vote against them, they fail.
I met with AISD Interim Superintendent Dennis McEntire last week to get clarification on the propositions. He was helpful, as was Chief Financial Officer Clay Braden.
“If you’re going to give a tax cut, it shouldn’t be targeted at one entity,” said McEntire. “It should be across the board.”
Why doesn’t the state spread property tax relief equally amongst all of the taxing entities, like cities and counties and hospital districts?
Why are school districts being targeted? Why does it seem more and more like there’s a war on public education, particularly in Texas? What is called school “choice” in an effort to invoke liberty and freedom is a dereliction to those who can’t afford a private education.
You are, of course, welcome to endorse school choice, but I believe public education is the most beneficial program ever devised by democratic government. There’s no better reason to pay a tax than to educate children and fund the salaries of those who are willing to teach. Access to education should be easy and equitable. Working against it benefits the few to the great detriment of the many.
Mr. McEntire had more to say. We are about to find ourselves in familiar territory. Once again, as has happened a couple of times in the last 20 years, the folks in Austin believe that Brewster County’s property values are not high enough, according to their formula. And when we don’t meet them, we are punished by receiving less money from the state. So much for local control.
The unsettled values, together with the two ballot propositions, will simmer and eventually boil over into serious funding issues by 2024, according to both McEntire and Braden.
Talk with your school board members and ask for their thoughts. While they have a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers, their moral obligation, and the mission of the district, is to children.
For $176 a year, which is less than 50 cents a day, I can’t get a week’s worth of groceries or pay one month’s electricity bill, but I can help sustain public education and, in turn, help our kids become productive community members, critical thinkers and engaged voters who will shore up our democratic institutions for generations.
Our public schools are already struggling. Vote no and give them a fighting chance.