Image: “The Cost of Government: Six Significant Cost-Drivers Not Addressed by SB 2,” Report of Texas Association of Counties, County Judges and Commissioners Association, and others.
Austin, March 7 – As part of their efforts to defeat meaningful property tax reform during the 85th Texas Legislature, the Texas Association of Counties (TAC), the County Judges and Commissioners Association, and two other pro-government spending trade associations issued a deceptive report entitled “The Cost of Government: Six Significant Cost-Drivers Not Addressed by SB 2.” The report attempts to bolster the argument of county judges and county commissioners who oppose property tax reform and any reductions in county government spending with the false argument that the State of Texas has passed “unfunded state mandates” with which counties must comply.
During the February 14 and February 28, 2017, County Commissioners Court meetings in Montgomery County, known for its explosion of government spending since 2000, amounting to 428% while population has only grown 84% during the same period, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador and County Judge Craig Doyal attempted to argue that County spending should not decrease due to “unfunded state mandates.” Of course, they’re trying to confuse citizens with terminology that applies to certain federal programs which the United States Government has passed to the states without providing federal appropriates for them. When Meador and Doyal used that terminology, several County employees as well as other members of the audience looked quizzically at each other.
Complaining about Property Tax Reform
The TAC report has revealed the secret to which Doyal and Meador referred: they were complaining mostly about law enforcement spending! The report listed six “significant cost-drivers.” TAC, the County Judges, and the County Commissioners have opposed Senate Bill 2, of which Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) is the primary author. SB 2 lowers the revenue cap for spending growth that would trigger a rollback election, makes appraisal district officials more accountable, makes it easier for taxpayers to challenge higher tax rates, makes the procedures for rollback elections far easier for citizens to challenge tax rates, and institutes several other property tax-related reforms. The TAC, the Texas Municipal League, the County Judges and Commissioners Association, and the Texas Association of County Auditors (of which Montgomery County Auditor Phyllis Martin is the President) have opposed SB 2 and other proposed measures providing taxpayer relief.
TAC’s press release introducing its report said, “As we have said before, SB 2, which lowers the current revenue cap from 8 to 4 percent, willfully ignores the cost of government, including the burden of unfunded mandates on property taxpayers.” Of course, the “burden” on property taxpayers comes from freewheeling County government spenders, not the law enforcement mandates of state law.
TAC’s Frontal Attack on Law Enforcement
TAC’s six “unfunded mandates” are interesting.
TAC, County Judges, and County Commissioners have complained about the requirement that each County must operate a judicial system. In Montgomery County, the Court system costs Montgomery County taxpayers $35,416,157, or 9.39% of the Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Budget. That would seem a small price to pay for the enforcement of laws, an essential service which those courts provide.
TAC has also complained about funding for “indigent defense – court-appointed attorneys in criminal cases.” There may be some legitimate concerns about the cost of indigent defense. Nevertheless, in Montgomery County, the entire cost of indigent defense is $5,617,797, or 1.49% of the entire County Budget. While a lot of money and while those expenditures may contain some inefficiencies and waste, those funds hardly excuse the many tens of millions of dollars that County Judge Craig Doyal and his wildly-spending allies on the Commissioners Court have blown.
Court-appointed attorneys in Child Protective Services cases are also the subject of TAC’s complaints. Readers may recall that County Attorney Jerry Don “Ice Man” Lambright received substantial payments (prior to the IRS tax levies) for his services in those CPS cases before he obtained a full-time County job in 2012. The total cost to Montgomery County for the attorneys in those CPS cases is $999,240, or 0.27% of the County’s Annual Budget.
One of the largest “unfunded mandates” about which TAC – and apparently Doyal and Meador – complain is the allegedly wasteful expense known as “County Jails.” Apparently TAC does not support Jail spending! In Montgomery County, the cost of the Jail, hardly an “unfunded state mandate,” is $40,110,531, or 10.63% of the County Budget.
TAC has complained about the cost of adult probation. In Montgomery County, the entire adult probate budget is $21,130 per year, or 0.006% of the County Budget. Juvenile probation, also the subject of TAC’s complaints, is most certainly a much higher source of expenditures. In Montgomery County, the Juvenile Probation program costs $1,909,670 per year, or 0.51% of the County’s Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Budget.
The total cost of all six of these “programs” is $84,074,525, or 22.28% of Montgomery County’s Annual Budget.
It’s genuinely shocking that the Texas Association of Counties would roundly criticize law enforcement spending, especially for the Jail and for the court system. It’s very disappointing that Meador and Doyal would join in this ridiculous propaganda in their effort to turn citizen attention away from them as the real source of County government spending waste and inefficiency.
The fact that almost seventy-eight percent (78%) of Montgomery County’s Annual Budget comprises expenditures outside of the Court system, the Jail, and related law enforcement functions would make one wonder why Doyal and the County Commissioners continue to waste tax dollars and why the citizens permit them to get away with doing that.