Pointing Out Flaws in Anti-Property Tax Letters

RECEIVED Mon., March 22, 2004

Dear Editor,
   The letters in your last issue decrying Austin property-tax levels have several logical and factual flaws ["Postmarks," March 19]. Rates for typical Austinites (AISD, city of Austin, Travis County, and ACC) are $2.68 per $100 of assessed property value this year. They were 5% lower ($2.55/$100) last year, but average property values declined about 4% between those years, leaving the average tax bill only 1% higher. (Most homeowners have exemptions and rate-of-increase limits that cause their rates to be somewhat lower.)
   For last year's tax-rate increases to cause a storage rental to go up by $35 per month ($420/year), as claimed in one letter, the assessed value per unit would have to be about $323,000. Your landlord is lying to you, pal.
   Although Texas property taxes have several flaws (such as failure to increase homestead exemption levels with inflation, no provision for renters to share in homestead exemptions, and being applied totally on a local level even to fund needs with statewide impact), the amount of property used by a person corresponds much more closely to ability to pay than sales-taxable purchases do.
   The letter from Oregon (where property taxes are about two-thirds of the Texas level) is a bit more reasonable, but the main reason that Oregon (whose overall taxes are higher) is a better tax environment for fixed-income people than Texas is that it uses a state income tax (70% of filers are in the 9% bracket) rather than either a sales tax or excess reliance on property taxes.
   A final point: Watch out for the GOP plan to remove the progressive features now in the Texas sales tax (such as exemption of groceries and rent) in order to grant property-tax relief that would go mainly to better-off people and businesses. They do not have your interests at heart.
Hunter Ellinger
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