Truth in Reporting: School Tax Increases

Blog / August 28, 2008

 By Tony McDonald

Crossposted from


Sometimes I wish the news would report the real truth — so I edited this article on Texas tax increases to give you a glimpse at the truth in this matter.
More school districts ask voters to raise tax rates
A growing number of Texas school districts are asking voters to agree to tax rate increases this year to cover ^their big-fat administrative budgets, using excuses such as  employee raises, greater fuel costs and rising utility bills.
School boards in Austin and Corpus Christi made the decision this week ^when they got the job  to seek property tax hikes. In the Houston area, the Alief, Humble and North Forest boards are considering following suit.
The Harris County elections would be held after the Nov. 4 general election, meaning lower voter turnout. That could play in favor of school districts that manage to get employees and parents to the polls, but it could also make the proposals vulnerable to small groups of motivated opponents. ^The School boards plan these late elections so that their educrat friends can pass the tax hikes without the true will of voters.
Since the Texas Legislature mandated property tax relief in 2006, the number of districts asking voters to raise property taxes ^using the legislature as an excuse to beg voters for more cash has grown to about 230 — roughly 20 percent of districts statewide, according to, which tracks the tax elections.
State Rep. Dan Branch, a lead author of the bill requiring the tax cuts, said it is working as intended: Districts must ^continuously  call elections if they want more money than the state-mandated maximum tax rate generates.
"This is what was anticipated  ^I’m going to praise my bill, damn-it," Branch, R-Dallas, said of the upcoming tax elections. "What was not necessarily anticipated was that we would have a spike in inflation.  ^I’ve got to hock something to my voters, even if the damn thing is a failure."
District officials ^fatcats, though, say they are unfairly strapped for cash ^to pay off their lexus. The state has capped their funding at 2005 or 2006 levels.
"It’s easy to understand the funding crisis that school districts across the state have when you consider that state funding to schools is frozen, but our costs ^desires for runaway spending are not," said Karen Collier, of the Humble Independent School District.
The Humble and North Forest school boards are expected to vote next month on a 13-cent rate increase, the maximum amount allowed.
Alief is considering a 7.5-cent bump, which would cover 3 percent raises for all employees. If voters reject the proposal, the district will have to use about $18 million from its savings.
"In reality, that 3 percent isn’t even a cost-of-living increase, but that’s all we thought we could afford ^voters would give us," said Alief school board President Sarah Winkler. "You hate to have to go ask your taxpayers when you know they’re struggling, but we’re all struggling for the same reason ^meaningliess platitudes."
Under the 2006 school funding changes, districts had to lower their maintenance-and-operations tax rate by one-third over two years. For most districts, that meant cutting their rate to $1 per $100 of assessed property value from $1.50.
Districts are allowed to raise their rates by four cents without voter approval but cannot increase the rate by any more than 13 cents even with an election.
Last year, 120 school districts statewide held tax elections, called rollback or tax-ratification elections. Seventy-nine percent of them passed, according to Of the 15 districts that held elections in 2006, only one referendum failed.
State Rep. Scott Hochberg, a critic of the school finance system, said he sympathizes with the districts and taxpayers ^a liberal Democrat thinks you need to give him and his cronies more of your hard earned money.
"Clearly, I think the people expected that the state would step up to the plate and do its share so that there wouldn’t be a constant pressure on property taxes to go up ^we knew there wouldn’t be any fiscal restraint at the local level, but we thought the weak-kneed Republicans in Austin would give in and spend state money on the schools," the Houston Democrat said. "And the state ^Republicans did nothing of that sort."
Galena Park is the only Houston-area district that sought a tax increase last year. The measure, which raised the tax rate by 7 cents, passed with 74 percent of the vote.
If the Alief, Humble and North Forest school boards approve the higher tax rates, the elections would take place in either late November or December, apart from the Nov. 4 general election.
Even if they wanted to, the Harris County school districts could not hold their elections on Nov. 4 because they did not receive their certified tax values from the county appraisal district in time for the deadline ^got help from their fellow bureaucrats with the appraisal board.
The appraisal district is supposed to certify the values by July 25, but that was not possible because so many businesses and homeowners protested their appraisals  ^the other method we’re using to swindle them this year, said Harris County chief appraiser Jim Robinson.