“Oh well—there’s always next year.”
When I was living up in Boston in the 1980s, that’s what we Red Sox fans always told ourselves as soon as we realized our favorite baseball team was out of pennant contention—sometimes as early as Memorial Day. We’d remind ourselves of the Curse of Babe Ruth—of how the Red Sox had failed to make it to a World Series ever since its owner sold The Bambino to the New York Yankees—and console ourselves with the fact that despite the latest failures of the Red Sox, “There’s always next year.”
Of course, since 2004 the Red Sox have seemed to have overcome The Curse, but those of us who want lower taxes in Stephenville will probably still need to console ourselves with the thought that “There’s always next year.”
This Tuesday the Stephenville city council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the property tax rate proposed for the upcoming fiscal year. I’m told that before the council there is a proposal to maintain the current rate of 49 cents per $100.00 assessed evaluation. If this is true, then I must ask why isn’t there a proposal to lower the rate to, say 48.5 cents? Indeed, why hasn’t there been such a proposal since 2014?
The city council’s decision in 2013 to raise the property tax rate from 48.5 cents to 49.5 cents, thereby requiring the owner of a $100,000 home to pay an additional $10.00 a year in property taxes, was made a major issue in the spring, 2014, election; most of the candidates, myself included, who defended the tax increase lost, and most of those who said the increase was unnecessary and wrong won. So why didn’t the winners, once they took office, roll back the tax rate from the “unnecessary” 49.5 cents to the previous 48.5 cent rate? They had an overwhelming majority on the council. So what happened?
Actually, to be fair, it must be admitted that the council did enact a partial decrease in the tax rate—from 49.5 cents to 49 cents, thereby reducing the annual tax bill on a $100,000 house by $5.00. But couldn’t they have rolled it back even more? Evidently, the city council did not think so. And so the tax rate has remained the same—a half cent above what was once thought to be the upper limit of acceptability. But that still begs the question—what happened? What prevented the restoration of the original tax rate?
The short answer: Reality.
Maybe, once those who denounced the tax increase in their campaigns got elected and took office, they concluded that some of the extra money generated by the tax increase was needed—or at least wanted—after all. Maybe they realized—not that anyone has ever admitted it to me—that those of us who had supported the original tax increase which set off the firestorm of opposition and rejection at the polls were correct in predicting greater expenses and rational in wanting to raise more money to meet them. Or maybe they concluded that cutting spending simply wasn’t as much fun as raising spending, especially on new economic development projects, but that you couldn’t cut taxes further if you wanted to have fun with spending.
Officials of the federal government—the president, senators, and representatives—can have more fun than state and local officials. The U. S. Constitution includes no requirement that the federal budget be balanced. In fact, it includes no requirement to budget at all. So federal officials can raise spending and cut taxes to their hearts’ content, and leave future generations to worry about deficits and the national debt.
But in Texas the state and local governments are required to balance their budgets. So while officials can have more fun raising spending, they can’t do so while also cutting taxes, the other fun thing politicians normally like to do. Contrary to popular political mythology, tax cuts don’t always lead to more money to spend—if that were true, then the city council could abolish taxes and still magically have all the money it wants. So if the city council wants the fun of spending more—whether on roads, or sewers, or storm water drainage systems, or economic development under the auspices of Prop 1—then at the very least it must hold the line on taxes, even if that means failing to lower the tax rate back to the 48.5 cent rate we were once told was all we needed.
But for those of you who want the lower rate—take heart! After all, there’s always next year.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.