The Woodlands, June 30 – State Senator Brandon Creighton, Republican of Conroe, is on a crusade for State of Texas tax and spending reform. On May 28, 2017, he became the first member of the Texas Senate to urge Governor Greg Abbott to call a special session on property tax reform, after the 85th Texas Legislature failed to pass Senate Bill 2 or other significant tax relief. “Texans deserve meaningful property tax reform and I am committed to that goal,” Creighton told the Governor in a letter at the end of the regular session.
The Senate passed the Property Tax Reform & Relief Act on March 21, leaving more than sufficient time for the Texas House leadership to pass the bill. Speaker Joe Straus, who claims to be a Republican, failed to get the bill passed much to the chagrin of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Houston State Senator Paul Bettencourt, and Creighton.
Creighton gave an exclusive interview to The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, yesterday afternoon, during which he emphasized his commitment to reduce taxes and spending at the state level.
But first, a brief discussion about Montgomery County
During the discussion, Creighton made an interesting observation about local governments, such as the Montgomery County government, and their method of spending and taxing: “They’re enjoying an 8 to 10 per cent increase in appraised values each year which is really a tax increase. They use those funds that are driven as a hidden tax increase from the appraisal districts. For capital projects, they incur long-term debt.”
Creighton’s description is right on the mark for the method of growing spending in the Montgomery County government. Since 2000, Montgomery County government spending has grown 424% while population has only grown 84%. Just on Tuesday, June 27, the County Commissioners Court went on a $5.5 million spending spree most of which came from certificate of obligation debt for capital projects that are largely unnecessary. The Commissioner Court voted to spend $4.5 million on one project without any budget or plans for it, at the urging of Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley.
Creighton’s plans for state tax and spending reform
Creighton told The Golden Hammer that he is pushing for a “three-legged stool of tax and spending reform”: appraisal caps on property taxes, implementing a lower rollback rate, and school finance reform. “Those are the three things you must have to achieve true tax reform in the State of Texas,” Creighton explained. “Each year the State reduces spending and saves taxpayers’ money makes it easier to achieve greater gains in the future.”
Appraisal District reform and appraisal caps; lowering the rollback rate
Creighton, who was a co-author of Senate Bill 2, which passed successfully through the Texas Senate, would have accomplished four primary objectives. Objections and intense lobbying against the bill from the Texas Municipal League and from cities such as Conroe eventually killed the bill in the Texas House where liberal Speaker Joe Straus was more than happy to see the proposal die.
Creighton explained that he wants to limit appraisal district property valuation increases on homesteads to 5% per year, rather than the 10% limitation under current law. Creighton also called for electing Appraisal Review Board members as well as the Board of Directors of each entire appraisal district. Under current law, local taxing authors, not citizens, elect the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors then appoints the Appraisal Review Board members.
Senate Bill 2, as Bettencourt and Creighton proposed, would also have reduced the “rollback rate” for local government entities which rely upon property taxes. If a county’s appraisal increase resulted in total increased taxes of more than 5% over the previous year, then a local government entity would be subject to a rollback election in front of the voters, if the government failed to reduce its tax rate to keep the total increase in spending below the 5%. That portion of the proposal would provide substantial local government spending reform and a real mechanism to enforce it.
School finance reform: the third leg of the stool
Senator Creighton noted that the method of allocating funds, which the Legislature has appropriated, to local school districts has become grossly unfair throughout Texas. Many school districts receive a far lower allocation of state education funds per student than districts in the same geographic area of the state. This inequity arises because the Texas Education Agency, a state bureaucracy, still has a lot of discretion to influence the funding formula for the allocation of education funds.
The Foundation School Program (FSP) is the state bureaucratic program which establishes the amount of state funding to local school districts. Texas Education Agency administers the FSP. Although the current FSP is meant to cause each district to receive “substantially equal access to” school funds, gross disparities exist from district to district under the program.
Creighton has proposed to establish a formula statewide which would require equalization of the per capita allocation which all local school districts receive.
Ethics reform that may lead to fiscal reform
In his years in the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate, Creighton has observed that taxpayer-funded lobbyists, especially for local governments, have had enormous influence over the course of reform legislation. He wants to bring that influence to an end.
Therefore, Creighton co-authored with Senator Konni Burton Senate Bill 455 which prohibited taxpayer-funded lobbyists altogether. The bill passed the Seante but died in the House Ethics Committee.
Where Creighton stands
Creighton’s voting record is among the most conservative of any member of the Texas Senate. He is a member of the “Liberty 8,” the group of state senators who are now “sophomores,” enjoying their second legislative session.
“I’m not one of those elected officials who tries to point his finger at every other level of government and blame them for the high level of taxation in this country. I’m a Texas Senator and I realize my job is to reduce taxation and spending that come out of Austin.”