The state legislature recently passed “truth in taxation” legislation that requires certain taxing entities to acknowledge that resultant increases in property tax revenues be labeled tax increases if the taxing entity chooses to set a tax rate that effectively produces new revenue. The rationale behind the legislation was to force taxing entities to acknowledge the growing problem of property-tax appraisal creep, instead of simply saying “what can you do?” and blaming appraisal boards. Anne Linehan touched on this in her earlier post on the fireworks in Council earlier this week, when those who favor larger government and higher spending were forced by the legislation to acknowledge they were setting a rate that would result in a significant increase in property-tax revenues.
Chronicle gossip columnist and metro/state Rick Casey, of course, is one of those who favors larger government and higher spending, but rather than simply shoot straight, Casey’s style is always to smear and attack those with whom he disagrees. Here’s his latest work:
Meanwhile, the two Harris County legislators responsible for the new “truth in taxation” law, Sens. Tommy Williams and Kyle Janek, should have been laughing up their sleeves.
Their little scheme has succeeded in forcing local officials to admit to raising taxes while they themselves continue to get a free ride.
Yet Williams and Janek and the rest of the Legislature raised taxes considerably last year. You don’t remember? They did it by not lowering the state sales tax.
The result: State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced two weeks ago that monthly state sales tax revenues were up 14 percent from a year ago.
That formulation sounded familiar. Sure enough, in watching the tape of the debate in Council that is the subject of Casey’s column, I heard Mayor White use the bolded soundbite almost verbatim. It’s not the first time that Casey has shamelessly stolen the words of other people without proper attribution, but one wishes he would be a little more honest with readers if he’s simply going to act as Mayor White’s PR man.
Substantively, although the soundbite is clever, it’s really comparing apples with oranges. Yes, the sales tax rate has been set, and increased sales do indeed produce increases in tax revenues, all things being equal. However, to my knowledge there are no boards that have ever convinced local merchants to raise prices in order to produce a certain amount of revenue in a taxing district (but we have seen some interesting relationships between property taxing entities and appraisal boards), so the comparison starts to break down. Furthermore, consumers can always cut back their spending if they feel sales taxes are excessive. Homeowners have much more trouble cutting down on their property “consumption” if they feel tax rates are too high!
Rick Casey may not like the fact that the legislature has responded to disgruntled property owners by passing “truth in taxation” legislation, but his characterization of the issue as simply a concern of a few activists just doesn’t ring true. And, as usual, his infantile attacks on those with whom he disagrees and his carrying water for political favorites really seem more appropriate for the opinion pages, not the metro/state news pages.