Galveston assessor assails ‘noose around taxpayers’ neck’

By Kenric Ward

The tax assessor for Galveston County says she is “increasingly disappointed” by official opposition to fixing Texas’ increasingly burdensome property tax system.

“Property taxes in Texas have been out of control for decades, thanks, in large part, to ever-increasing property values,” Cheryl Johnson said in a statement to Watchdog.org.

Johnson, who won re-election, unopposed, in November, said her disappointment in officials has “blossomed into downright outrage” as local agencies pursue costly and questionable public-works projects.

“My school district wants to hire uncertified teachers while constructing a new meeting place for the board. My city wants to build dog parks in a city where the average lot size is over half an acre. My county has spent a million dollars on a single lawsuit, and the drainage district isn’t doing anything substantial to accomplish its mission to reduce flooding,” the tax collector said.

Truth in Accounting, a nonpartisan research group, found debt-driven municipal spending all across Texas. Among the state’s largest cities, only Arlington has enough cash to cover its pension and health-care liabilities.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt introduced Senate Bill 2 to rein in rising property tax bills by restricting the revenue stream. Noting that local levies are far outstripping household incomes, the Houston Republican said Texas property taxes have metastasized beyond homeowners’ ability to pay.

“While we have tightened our belts, government has tightened the noose around our neck and weighed us down with unreasonable tax burdens,” Johnson asserted.

Johnson supports SB2’s provision that halves the annual 8 percent revenue increase for local governments.

“I believe [getting] 4 percent more than last year is a pretty good pay increase — certainly more than I receive each year,” she said.

Still, the Texas Municipal League and the Texas Association of Counties warn that SB 2 could cripple local government. Local politicians — lobbying the Legislature with tax dollars — and news outlets call the 4 percent rate a “cap.” It isn’t.


First, new construction is exempt from the formula — meaning 4 percent is a floor, not a ceiling, in growing communities.

Second, a municipality can exceed 4 percent if it wins voter approval in a tax override election [as school districts are required to do].

“A public vote is necessary because citizens are unaware of what is occurring,” Johnson said. “They cannot attend every meeting where taxes and spending are discussed.”

As an example, the assessor cited the city of Santa Fe, which encompasses seven taxing districts in Galveston County. “A citizen there would have to attend seven different meetings on seven different days at seven different times, according to public notices we rarely see.”

“Thankfully, Sen. Bettencourt [and SB 2 co-authors Sens. Brandon Creighton, Kelly Hancock and Larry Taylor] understand that the challenge of babysitting our governments exceeds the time availability of average families,” Johnson said.

This article originally appeared at Watchdog.org.

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