Friday, January 23, 2015
Do we deserve lower taxes? | Last Word
Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus all agree that Texans deserve tax cuts.
It’s a brilliant idea, if hardly original.
It’s a short step beyond taking Grover Norquist’s famous pledge.
You know the one:
The promise not to raise taxes that every Republican was asked to take before standing for office or re-election.
A few brave Republican souls have stood up to Norquist.
Locally, Sen. Jeff Wentworth did.
I mean former Sen. Jeff Wentworth.
So if not raising taxes is the baseline, reducing them can quickly become the standard.
I like the idea of lower taxes.
But frankly I’m not sure I deserve them.
For one thing, because I live in Texas my taxes are very low by national standards.
The Census Bureau reports that Texans paid $1,865 a year in 2012, the latest year I could find.
That’s lower than all but seven states.
But state governments split the costs of government with local governments in different ways.
So it gets even better.
According to the Washington-based Tax Foundation, Texans rank 47th in combined state and local taxes.
The typical Texan pays 7.5 percent of his or her income in state and local taxes.
To pay less, I’d have to move to Wyoming, Alaska or South Dakota.
But the biggest city in those states is Anchorage, with 292,000 in the last census.
Cheyenne, Wyoming’s biggest city, weighed in at under 60,000.
The entertainment options are limited.
And high school football must have a short season.
Compared to the other biggest states, Texas is a bargain.
Californians pay $5,136 in state and local taxes, compared to our $3,088.
New Yorkers pay more than double what we do, at $6,622.
The national average is $4,217.
But wait, it gets better!
I live in Bexar County, which has the lowest property tax burden of any of the state’s five most populated counties.
The median home in Bexar County is taxed at $2,484 this year.
The closest is Dallas County at $2,827.
Austin’s Travis County is at $3,972.
And that’s not all.
Among the state’s five largest cities, only Austin has a lower property tax rate at 48.1 cents per $100 valuation.
San Antonio’s is 56.6 cents.
But when you account for housing prices, it’s quite a different story.
According to a 2012 study by the Austin American-Statesman, the average house in Austin was taxed $1,224 by the city.
In San Antonio, city taxes on the average house were only $725, the lowest of any of the five largest cities.
So in tax terms, it’s great to be a Texan, greater to live in Bexar County, and absolutely the greatest to live in San Antonio.
Assuming you like city living, of course.
Still, I absolutely feel like I deserve a tax cut.
I like the idea of having more money in my pocket.
But there are some other things I like the idea of.
I like the idea of well paid police officers.
I don’t want the city patrolled by armed men and women with martyr complexes.
I like the idea of highly paid teachers, and more ambitious and rigorous teacher training.
I feel like I deserve better streets and highways.
The late Molly Ivins used to describe Texas as “Mississippi with good roads.”
Now we have the state wanting to turn paved roads into dirt roads because there’s not enough maintenance money available.
I like the idea of a state water supply to support economic growth and the jobs it brings.
I want excellent state universities with tuition rates that don’t drive students into mountains of debt.
I deserve good libraries and beautiful parks.
And I like the idea of my children and grandchildren not having to pay for all the things I deserve.