A Fight is Brewing?? Activist Picks a Fight Amongst Party Leaders
According to Michael Sullivan of Empower Texans, a fight is brewing among Texas House Speaker Joe Straus’ leadership team. Rep. Hilderbran seems to be embracing the official platform position of the Republican Party of Texas while, according to Sullivan, Rep. Keffer has financed a study undermining that very position.
Hilderbran has been quoted as saying he wants “to begin the process of abolishing residential and commercial property taxes.” At least at first glance, such a statement is welcome news to all Texans who pay property taxes, which are some of the highest in the nation.
The Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute (an entity led by GOP lawmakers) has characterized the property tax burden as something “abridges private property rights: if one can never take full ownership of land or a house, the constitutional right to private property is a false promise.”
Conservative Texas lawmakers have clamored for a move away from the present property tax structure fore more than a decade. TXCCRI and the Texas Public Policy Foundation have written on the issue and have spurred discussion on the issue throughout Austin.
The question becomes, if property taxes in Texas were to be abolished, what replaces the revenue? Somewhat surprisingly, Rep. Hilderbran has offered no immediate solution on the replacement of the issue despite the fact that he has clamored for the abolishment of a revenue stream that supports many governmental functions.
The GOP, when calling for the abolishment of property taxes, commonly offers the idea of a consumption based tax burden. However, neither Hilderbran, or any other Republican leader, has offered a specific consumption based tax that would replace the current property tax revenue system.
Sullivan’s review of the fight brewing is a bit of a stretch. In fact, it appears that he is the one seeking “the fight.” Although he recognizes that Hilderbran has no plan as of yet if property taxes were abolished, he unleashes an attack on Rep. Keffer for even studying the issue. Specifically, Keffer writes the following:
This doesn’t sit well with State Rep. Jim Keffer (R-Eastland), who paid a lobbyist to draft a straw-man report slamming the official position of the GOP. Mr. Keffer’s study claims sales taxes would double, local control of local government be abolished, and food and medicine taxed.
Mr. Keffer and his lobbyist-prepared report offer no solutions, but their record is one of higher taxes and bigger government.
Why is Mr. Keffer fighting his party? Mr. Keffer has tried – and failed – to lower property taxes using variations of income and business taxes. He once authored legislation to impose a payroll tax on Texas, which died in no small part due to its similarities to an income tax. He later was the author of the now-imposed Gross Margins Tax – an inefficient, complicated tax that hurts small business.
Mr. Keffer claimed his tax on business would reduce property taxes. (His scheme reduced the rate but not the burden paid by most property owners.)
The official GOP platform position on Mr. Keffer’s business tax? “Repeal.”
Texans, and especially Republicans, overwhelmingly reject Keffer-style taxes on income and business. His colleagues have been listening, but Mr. Keffer clearly has not.
Mr. Keffer wants the GOP to learn to love high and growing property taxes, following the path of the Democratic Party in opposing the governor and the Republican platform. Mr. Hilderbran, on the other hand, is open to responsible – and responsive – tax policy, in keeping with the GOP platform.
With an overwhelming majority of GOP incumbents and candidates signed off on the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, as well as supporting Gov. Rick Perry’s Texas Budget Compact, there is no political appetite for new or higher taxes. Indeed, real tax cuts are what voters expect from the GOP.
We don’t have – and never really had – a “revenue problem.” What we do have is a spending problem, at all levels of government. Education spending has far outpaced enrollment growth and inflation, while general spending has grown more than twice as fast as the combined rate of population and inflation.
By putting a strong cap on spending, and dedicating future surpluses to permanent property tax burden relief while keeping the commitment to abolish the property tax, we can put the state on a sustainable path to a less burdensome place. Fiscal responsibility begins with good stewardship and an emphasis on restraining government growth.
Yet even as this battle brews in the GOP-controlled legislature, the discussion is over among voters.
Now Speaker Straus, his leadership team, and the GOP’s rank-and-file lawmakers and candidates, all must decide if they want to govern in accordance with the wishes of their voters – following their party’s platform – or be drawn away by Mr. Keffer’s opposition to meaningful property tax relief.
Rather than devote resources to straw-man studies propping-up big spending and inefficient taxes, lawmakers seeking to represent their constituents should find ways to make Texans stronger. Fixing the burdensome property tax system is a voter imperative, not a request.
Indeed, Texans don’t like paying taxes. Republicans certainly don’t like paying taxes, and much to Mr. Sullivan’s chagrin, even the most liberal of Texans don’t like paying taxes. However, a majority of Texans do like having schools. A majority of Texans like having basic roads to traverse. Making a charge to abolish property taxes, without any plan for replacing the revenue source which provide basic services to nearly every Texan (think schools) is simply irresponsible. Calling out other members of the same party as ‘government growing’ liberals for even studying the issue, particularly without any alternative plan to replace over $40 BILLION in revenue (nearly 50% of the state’s tax base), is not only similarly irresponsible, but could be seen as a vain attempt to pander to the lowest common denominator.
In short, both Rep. Hilderbran and Rep. Keffer are elected officials who have duties to their constituents. If their constituents want property taxes abolished then they should take steps to effectuate same. However, doing so without any plan for replacing this state tax revenue would cripple the state, and negatively effect their constituencies much more than property tax relief could ever help them.