Image: Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal has focused on fashion and glamor while increasing County government spending aggressively during his time in office. He opposed property tax reform and the 20% homestead exemption and lobbied against reform in Austin during the 85th Legislative Session.
Conroe and Austin, January 22 – Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal lobbied against statewide property tax reform in Austin even after the Montgomery County Commissioners Court had voted unanimously to support the legislative reform. Doyal met privately with State Representative Mark Keough on February 7, 2017, to ask him to vote against property tax reform and to state that he opposed a 20% homestead exemption for Montgomery County taxpayers.
Keough, who is now running against Doyal for County Judge in the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election, discussed the meeting briefly during a January 18, 2018, candidate debate before the Montgomery County Eagle Forum. Doyal did not deny the events occurred as Keough explained them.
In order to understand fully the context of Doyal’s opposition to property tax reform in private meetings, while he public told Montgomery County citizens that he supported the measures, it’s important to examine the chronology of the events during 2017 in that regard.
Chronology of property tax reform and the 20% homestead exemption
In January, 2017, two major events occurred with respect to tax reform in Montgomery County. First, a conservative activist by the name of Kelli Cook discovered that Texas was one of only a dozen counties among the 254 counties in Texas where the County government did not provide a homestead exemption for property taxes. Texas law had allowed for an exemption up to 20% on the value of a homestead since 1989, but the Montgomery County government under Doyal’s leadership, failed to offer any exemption at all.
The other major event in January was the beginning of the 85th Texas Legislative Session where Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) introduced Senate Bill 2, which would provide substantial property tax relief to citizens of Texas statewide.
Cook brought the failure of the County government to provide a homestead exemption to Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack and provided him with all of her research. During the months of January, February, and March of 2017, Cook and other conservative activists had substantial interaction with Noack, because the Citizens Budget Committee began to meet at Noack’s office.
February 14, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting
On February 14, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court received an excellent presentation by Montgomery County Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae on the homestead exemption which Montgomery County had failed to make available to taxpayers. Commissioner Noack requested this presentation and brought this item before the Commissioners Court.
There were some amazing citizen comments that lasted almost an hour during that meeting as well. Almost all of them were in favor of a 20% homestead exemption for the County’s ad valorem taxation of our homes. All citizens were respectful yet firm in their resolve to bring reform to the County government. It was a great moment in the history of this community.
Later in the same meeting, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court rejected a 20% homestead exemption on a 2-5 vote, despite a standing-room-only crowd of citizens who spoke in favor of the measure. Doyal expressed his desire to increase County government spending. The Commissioners then enacted a 10% homestead exemption for which Doyal tried to take the credit.
The vote on the 20% homestead exemption was:
The next item on the agenda was a resolution to support Senator Bettencourt’s legislative efforts to bring about meaningful property tax reform. Doyal tried to blame school districts for high government spending. Since the resolution, which Noack had authored, was nonbinding, it passed unanimously.
McRae explained at the February 14 Commissioners Court meeting that a 20% homestead exemption would increase the amount of money in the hands of taxpayers by $27.743 million per year. This massive revenue increase would assist County taxpayers make ends meet and increase their ability to keep their homes, despite the efforts of Doyal and Commissioners Charlie Riley and Mike Meador and the remaining members of the Montgomery County Appraisal District Board to increase appraised values rapidly in order to increases tax collections to permit the County government to increase spending massively.
McRae noted that at least 100 counties provide the full 20% homestead exemption. Neighboring Fort Bend, Galveston, and Harris counties all provide the full 20% homestead exemption, according to the data McRae presented from the Texas Association of Counties.
McRae discussed the homestead exemption under Texas Property Tax Code Section 11.13(n), which provides:
“In addition to any other exemptions provided by this section, an individual is entitled to an exemption from taxation by a taxing unit of a percentage of the appraised value of his residence homestead if the exemption is adopted by the governing body of the taxing unit before July 1 in the manner provided by law for official action by the body. If the percentage set by the taxing unit produces an exemption in a tax year of less than $5,000 when applied to a particular residence homestead, the individual is entitled to an exemption of $5,000 of the appraised value. The percentage adopted by the taxing unit may not exceed 20 percent.”
McRae noted that since October 1, 2016, appraisals in Montgomery County had already increased $2,751,652,521, which is almost $2.8 Billion. Increased appraisals under the appraisal tax increases, which Riley and Meador have led, would easily provide enough increased spending revenue to permit taxpayers a bit of tax relief.
Texas Legislature activity in February, 2017
The 85th Texas Legislature continued to suffer from the terrible obstructionism of liberal House Speaker Joe Straus who worked closely the democrats to stop the passage of conservative reform legislation, especially Senator Bettencourt’s property tax reform measure, which the mega-lobbying organizations known as the Texas Association of Counties and the Texas Municipal League vehemently opposed.
Despite Straus’ opposition, Mark Keough, State Representative from The Woodlands, courageously introduced a property tax reform measure in the Texas House of Representatives which would place a 5% cap on property tax increases on all real property. The present cap is 10% but only on homesteads. As a result homestead property taxes rise the full 10% almost every year in Montgomery County, while commercial properties’ taxes often increase by as much as 20%.
While Bettencourt’s property tax reform bill made substantial progress in the Texas Senate, Straus halted any reform efforts in the Texas House by carefully controlling the committee chairs who had jurisdiction over the legislation.
February 7, 2017, meeting between Doyal, McRae, and Keough
What Doyal failed to disclose to the citizens of Montgomery County was that he had already gone to Austin specifically to join his cohorts at the Texas Association of Counties and the Texas Municipal League to lobby against property tax reform.
Doyal and Montgomery County Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae took a trip to Austin on Tuesday, February 7, 2017, while the Legislature was in session. They met with State Representative Mark Keough who represents District 15, which is wholly within Montgomery County. Keough knew that McRae was coming to meet with him and discovered that Doyal accompanied her.
McRae didn’t participate in the conversation, which was entirely between Doyal and Keough.
Doyal complained to Keough about Keough’s bill that would have placed a 5% cap on property tax increases. Doyal told Keough, “we can’t afford to do something like that.”
Doyal also discussed the proposal under discussion among conservative political activists in Montgomery County to place a 20% homestead property tax exemption on taxation by the Montgomery County government. “I don’t think we can afford it and I can’t support it,” Doyal told Keough.
Doyal’s comments alarmed Keough who responded, “We’re elected by the people, Judge.” Doyal insisted, “We just can’t afford it. We need those revenues to support our spending programs in the County government.”
After the recent candidate forum on January 18, 2018, Keough told The Golden Hammer, “once again Craig Doyal was not listing to the people of Montgomery County. Leadership is integrity. You can’t tell the citizens one thing publicly and then lobby another way in private.”
Doyal’s plan to defeat the proposal for a 20% homestead exemption fell apart on February 28, 2017, when the Montgomery County GOP Executive Committee voted decisively on February 28, at the quarterly meeting under the leadership of County GOP Chairman Walter D. Wilkerson, Jr., to endorse the proposal calling for the County to adopt a 20% homestead exemption.
Republican Precinct 50 Chairman Reagan Reed, author of the GOP resolution and one of the 89-member GOP Executive Committee, explained, “When all was said and done, the resolution passed overwhelmingly…Now I would like to see Judge Doyal, Meador, and Riley explain why they are opposed to the Republican Party’s official call for [this] tax relief.” The County Republican Executive Committee simply could not have been more clear in its support for the 20% homestead exemption proposal.
The Montgomery County government has had a spending explosion increasing almost at the full amount of appraisal district property valuation increases each year. The County government’s spending has grown 428% since 2000, while the population growth during that time period has only been 84%. The County has failed to achieve any economies of scale contravening fundamental principles of sound management, which have been known for hundreds of years since the economic writing of Adam Smith and more recently since the detailed statistical and historical analysis of RAND Corporation economist Fredrick T. Moore, which he presented to the American Statistical Association on December 29, 1953, under the compelling title “Economies of Scale: Some Statistical Evidence.” Rather than reducing spending growth as the population has increased, as historical and economic data would predict, the Montgomery County government’s complete management failure has produced a direct diseconomy of scale.
On March 28, 2017, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court in a surprise move voted 4 to 1 to adopt a 20% homestead exemption for property taxes beginning Fiscal Year 2018 (which commenced October 1, 2017). Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack had put the item on the agenda after the Commissioners Court rejected the proposal at the February 14, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting. Noack made the motion and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Clark seconded it.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley then shocked everyone in the Courtroom when he announced, “I promised I’d do my research. I’ve done a bunch of research including looking at other counties, including Brazoria County. I’ve decided this proposal is a good idea. I’m all for it.”
It was pretty apparent that Riley’s “research” was simply that he knew that the County GOP Executive Committee had overwhelmingly support the 20% homestead exemption and Riley claims to be a Republican.
At that point in the meeting, County Judge Craig Doyal reluctantly followed along with the three of them and voted in favor of the 20% homestead exemption, since he knew the proposal already had three out of five votes and would pass with or without his support.
Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, a relict of pro-government spending, anti-taxpayer philosophy, was the lone dissenter to vote against the exemption.
Doyal has continued to oppose property tax reform and to advocate increased spending in the Montgomery County government. As Noack told The Golden Hammer during the budget process on May 4, 2017, “Doyal is telling Department heads they don’t need to cut their budgets and he’ll take the money out of road and bridge funds from the Commissioners Precincts, if necessary. Doyal and some of my Commissioners Court colleagues have family members in the County government who they’re trying to protect, so they won’t cut budgets.”