DALLAS — It’s more expensive to be a Texan than ever before.
“Homes are getting a lot more expensive and we’re not getting paid enough to be able to afford them or stay in them,” explained former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for Texas governor.
Property taxes are part of the problem.
While Texas has no state property tax, local governments set rates and collect property taxes to fund schools, police and fire departments, street repairs and hundreds of other services.
Property taxes are also used to fund public hospitals.
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Each spring, county appraisal districts send property tax appraisal notices.
And each year local homeowners react with shock when they open them.
“It was like a $30,000 dollar [increase] from last year to this year,” explained Alendra Lyons, president of Dallas’s Mill City Community Association near Fair Park.
She said all her neighbors feel the same.
“They’re panicking because when the property tax goes up like this, they feel defenseless,” she said.
Lyons joined O’Rourke at a stop in Dallas's South Oak Cliff neighborhood Wednesday, where he laid out his plan to offer property tax relief to Texans.
Adding new revenue streams, including legalized gambling, could to lessen the state’s reliance on property taxes to fund important services, he said.
He said legalizing and regulating marijuana would add a billion dollars to the state.
“Right now, we spend half a billion dollars locking people up for a substance that is legal in most of the rest of the country - most of the rest of the developed world,” he said. “We also lose out on, conservatively speaking, half a billion dollars in tax revenue if we were to tax the regulated and controlled sale of marijuana.”
O’Rourke said expanding Medicaid means public hospitals would foot a smaller bill to care for the uninsured.
He’d like to pass tighter regulations to prevent corporations from using their power to lobby for lower tax rates and protest appraisals which costs the state millions.
“None of us homeowners can hire the attorneys or lobbyists to do that,” O’Rourke said. “We’ve got to make sure it’s a fair system. And today it’s not.”
O’Rourke pledged to rewrite school finance funding formulas to ensure an even split between the state and local taxpayers.
He laid the blame for property tax problems squarely on his republican opponent, Governor Greg Abbott.
“He’s the single greatest driver of inflation in the state of Texas and it’s causing real pain to our fellow Texans right now,” said O’Rourke.
Abbott’s campaign fired back at O’Rourke’s announcement by saying the governor has cut property taxes.
“Every session that I’ve been governor, we’ve cut your property taxes,” Abbott said, when he signed his ‘taxpayer bill of rights’.
He explained the bill of rights at an event in Kingwood in January.
Abbott’s plan calls for using state funds to drive down local school district tax rates, making it easier for homeowners to protest their appraisals, and giving people who pay their taxes early a discount.