Property taxes in Texas up nearly 200 percent over the past two decades, comptroller says

The state’s chief accountant said Wednesday that property taxes across Texas  rose 188 percent between 1992 and 2010, with local sales taxes growing  almost as fast.

In a report called “Your Money and the Taxing Facts,” Comptroller  Susan Combs says those local taxes have outpaced a generally accepted  measure for determining whether officials have held the line on spending:  inflation plus population growth. The report notes that Texas has seen a  proliferation over that time of “special purpose districts” that  tax for services such as water and wastewater service — though the report  does not analyze the degree to which those districts contributed to higher  taxes, or how much the spending choices of other local officials were  responsible.

Combs also said her office is launching a website intended to help property  owners determine who is taxing them. Combs told the American-Statesman that  many homeowners “may have a hard time finding out who all the people  who tax you are.”

The website,,  has its limits, however. For instance, it lists how many school districts,  cities, municipal utility districts and other jurisdictions collect taxes in  each county, but it does not show which entities tax specific properties.  Appraisal district websites provide more detailed tax information for  specific properties; the Travis County Tax Office also has more detailed  information.

Combs said that she intends to expand the website to include more customized  features but that it will depend in part on whether local officials across  the state send her the necessary information or the state Legislature  compels them to.

Texas charges among the lowest state and local taxes in the country, according  to the Tax Foundation, a Washington organization that ranked the state’s  burden 45th at $3,197 per household in 2009, the most recent year available.

Combs’ report comes with political overtones. She and Land Commissioner Jerry  Patterson are both said to be considering a run for lieutenant governor,  which is up for election in 2014. Amid speculation about a potential  rivalry, Patterson has accused Combs of violating state law and hurting  taxpayers by orchestrating a $25-million-a-year state subsidy for a Formula  One racetrack just outside Austin.

Combs responds that the event will be a major economic driver and worth the  subsidy.

Combs said Wednesday’s report is the first of a series her office is working  on. Others will focus on local debt, as well as what Combs said is local  officials’ increasing habit of paying for major projects with bonds that  governments issue without seeking voter approval.

Bill Aleshire, a former Travis County judge and tax assessor-collector, said  that part of the issue Combs points to was caused by state spending cuts,  which pressured local officials to raise taxes to keep services intact, but  that there are also problems with the structure of local government.

“Do we really need a separate health care board, or a bunch of fire  districts instead of a countywide fire department?” he asked.

But he added that, at least in Austin, where the property-tax burden on the  average-value home rose 38 percent over the past decade, “increasing  taxes won’t get fixed until voters take accountability for a lot of this.  They keep electing the same people and approving every bond package.”

Contact Marty Toohey at 445-3673