No 3-2 Vote this Time. Democrats Will Need to Compromise or Accept the "No New Revenue" Tax Rate
Updated: Oct 5, 2021
During the 9/14/21 Harris County Commissioners Court meeting, the Court members debated how much to lower the total, "all-in" Harris County property tax rate. The current property tax rate is $0.59920 per $100 valuation. The Democrats proposed to lower the rate to $0.58585, while the Republicans proposed a steeper cut to $0.57504. Both proposals would ensure adequate money is available to service the county's flood control bond debt. Now, to be clear, both of the proposed tax rate cuts would still result in HIGHER county property tax revenues next year. Why? Because taxable property values in Harris County continue to grow (see county chart at the bottom of this post). Due to higher property appraisals, most (~84%) Harris County residents will hear Commissioners Court "lowered" property taxes, only to receive a HIGHER property tax bill next year.
So, what happens if the Democrats and Republicans can't agree on a new property tax rate? Normally, the Democrats would simply overrule the Republicans on a 3-2 vote. When setting the property tax rate, however, state law requires that four Commissioners Court members be present to make a quorum. So, in this case, the Republicans could block the Democrats by simply boycotting the tax rate meeting. Without a quorum, the new tax rate would actually default to the "No New Revenue" rate, which means county property tax revenue next year could not exceed the revenue collected this year (no increase at all). Since the taxable property value has increased, the "No New Revenue" tax rate would actually be even lower than the rates proposed by Democrats and Republicans.
Would the Republicans actually boycott? If history is any indicator, absolutely. In 2019, the Republicans on Commissioners Court boycotted when the Democrats attempted to raise the property tax rates - see link below:
Has anything changed? During the last meeting, Pct. 3 Commissioner Ramsey pointed out that "wasteful" county government spending has soared as Democrats have created new programs, new layers of county bureaucracy, new county departments, and commissioned expensive, unnecessary consultant reports. Pct. 4 Commissioner Cagle stated that, as the "tax spenders", they should be very mindful of the "tax payers". Those comments are telling. It is my belief that, if Democrats fail to compromise, the Republicans will again boycott the tax rate meeting and, without a 4-person quorum, the "No New Revenue" tax rate will go into effect next year. To prevent drastic cuts in planned spending and delays in flood control projects, Democrats should compromise to avoid the "No New Revenue" rate. Frankly, it will be much easier to adjust the upcoming county budget to a compromise, bipartisan tax rate instead of the lowest, "No New Revenue" rate.
NOTE: During the last meeting, Pct. 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis implied that, if the Republicans don't accept the Democrats' tax rate proposal and decide to boycott again, the Democrats on Commissioners Court would cover budget shortfalls by taking the money out of Precincts 3 and 4. While the residents of Precincts 1 and 2 would be fine with that idea, I suspect Precincts 3 and 4 residents would react harshly to the Democrats taking that action. When running for re-election next year, County Judge Hidalgo would have an extremely hard time explaining why underfunding half of the county was justified to settle a political score (especially when the Democrats refused to compromise). Simply put, the County Judge can't rob Peter to pay Paul... she has to represent and serve all Harris County residents.
For more information, please click on the links below.
9/21/21 UPDATE: Good news. During the 9/21/21 public hearing, Commissioners Court members comprised and unanimously voted to propose an overall property tax rate of $0.58135. It looks like Democrats and Republicans basically split the difference between their original proposals. I actually consider this bipartisan tax rate agreement to be a big win for the Democrats since it allows us to avoid the much lower "No New Revenue" tax rate. The bipartisan rate provides a large tax cut to taxpayers, but still provides sufficient funding for county services. The bipartisan tax rate does include a slight cut to the Hospital District, but I'm confident Commissioners can use the sea of federal pandemic relief funds to help support our local public hospitals. For more information, please click on the link below:
For the historical property tax rates and taxable values chart prepared by Harris County, please see below:
FOR MORE POSTS, please routinely check HarrisCountyDemocrats.com.