Great Property Tax Heist

By Terri Hall l June 10, 2011

Voters thought they sent a message to politicians of all political stripes last November – we’re fed-up with out-of-control taxation, debt, spending, and big government and politicians who proceed on that course do so at their own peril. While Texas Governor Rick Perry tried to convince tea partiers and grassroots conservatives that he took up the mantle of limited government and low taxes by declaring certain pet issues as “emergency items” in the 82nd regular legislative session, there’s plenty of evidence that the Governor’s and the Legislature’s priorities don’t remotely resemble those of the electorate.

Whether it was Voter ID, eminent domain reform, or the sonogram bill, such grassroots hot button issues got watered down demonstrating it was more about political pandering and serving up red herrings to distract the grassroots than about meaningful reform. Yet, bills that had massive grassroots support, like ending the tolling of existing roads, the groping TSA pat downs, and the naked body airport scanners, all failed to pass. With all the GOP talk of throwing off federal government interference in Texas, the Texas lawmakers repeatedly cratered to threats from the U.S. Justice Department to make Texas a no-fly zone, if it passed the pat down ban. Guess all that huffing and puffing amounted to mere election-year rhetoric to get re-elected.

So let’s look at the scorecard for Texas lawmakers. Certain Texas state agencies must undergo a sunset review every 10-12 years. The goal is to eliminate waste, duplication, and make the agency run more efficiently, and if it outlasts its usefulness, abolish it altogether. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) was up for sunset review in 2009, but as with many sunset bills that get loaded up like a proverbial Christmas tree with lawmakers’ pet legislation, the bill died. So it was pushed to the session this year and lawmakers wasted no time in tacking on more controversial pieces of legislation like the expanded use of Transportation Reinvestment Zones (TRZs) to heist property taxes to fund transportation projects.

Local government can designate any area it considers ‘underdeveloped’ or in need of ‘redevelopment’ a TRZ, and raid the anticipated property tax increases to pay for not only transportation, but also virtually anything else government wants to fund as well. TRZs expressly grant governmental authorities to get into the business of economic development, yet another property rights abuse. Don’t count on your property taxes ever being lowered when government can sell bonds dependent on ever increasing property taxes. A stand alone bill with similar language to expand TRZ authority to counties also passed (HB 563 by Rep. Joe Pickett) and will appear on the ballot this November in a Constitutional Amendment election. Voters beware!

After citizens overwhelmed the Sunset Commission with comments demanding elected leadership to head TxDOT, the legislature kept a status quo Transportation Commission with its 5 appointees in place, and few meaningful reforms to TxDOT were adopted (after multiple scathing sunset reviews and audits), making the entire session a transportation-taxpayer nightmare and a special interest dream. The sunset bill allows the sale of 15 Texas roads to private, even foreign corporations using public private partnerships (PPPs) with published toll rates as high as 75 cents per mile, sealing the deal that the Republican-dominated Texas legislature is a wholly-owned subsidiary of special interests and doesn’t give a hoot about private property rights.

Lawmakers ‘Just Say No’ to Lemonade Stands, Roadside Vendors

After a similar bill died in the Transportation Committee, county governments lobbied to ensure passage of a bill that would give counties with a population of 450,000 or more the power to regulate roadside vendors (think taxes or putting you out of business), including the sale of pets, and anything that collects money, even your kid’s lemonade stand and even in private parking lots! At a time when Americans are looking for additional sources of income to help make ends meet, this is ‘Big Government’ overreach, when taxpayers can least afford it. Thankfully, this is one of the bills Texas Governor Rick Perry vetoed, and rightfully so.

Trans Texas Corridor name is no more

While the final repeal of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) finally became law (HB 1201), the passage of several key bills essentially revive a Trans Texas Corridor-style sale of Texas infrastructure through PPPs without the unpopular name attached.

Aside from halting the Constitutional Amendment that would have repealed the ban on perpetuities, a bill to install automatic license plate readers in DPS vehicles failed, along with bills to take away lanes open to both autos and bikes and make them bike-only lanes and one to establish police checkpoints to verify auto insurance (‘Papers, pleez’). Then there are the bills to increase the gas tax, one solely dedicated not to building roads but to retiring mounting road debt that also died.

The message to the grassroots is clear. Sit down, shut up, and hand us your money, your property, and your freedom. When elected officials brazenly thumb their noses at over 100 grassroots groups and fail to even respond to their Open Letter (aside from passing all the legislation they said ‘NO’ to and allowing the bills they did want passed to die), the electorate had better take heed and respond appropriately and demand accountability by getting their pound of flesh at the ballot box. After all, every single one of them is up for re-election next year, thanks to the 2010 census and redistricting. Anything less is hazardous to your freedom!

Terri Hall is the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), which defends against eminent domain abuse and promotes non-toll transportation solutions. She’s a home school mother of eight turned citizen activist. Ms. Hall is also a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.