A campaign video shows Ben Hall, the former city attorney who is now running for mayor, sitting in a classroom amid a group of schoolchildren as his voiceover talks about the importance of education.
“Our children are our future,” Hall says, with music swelling in the background. “They deserve the very best education that any school district can offer.”
Funny thing about education, though. Somebody has to pay for it.
That’s the irony in Hall’s video. In Texas, public schools are funded mainly by property taxes. And Hall has a bad habit of paying his property taxes late.
Tax records obtained by KHOU 11 News show the candidate has paid more than $130,000 in late fees, penalties and interest on property taxes he’s owed during the past decade. Indeed, he owed more than $50,000 to the Spring Branch ISD that was due in January, a bill he hastily paid after KHOU contacted him with questions about his tax troubles.
“It’s not deliberate, but I’ll be honest with you, I don’t rush to pay my tax bills,” Hall said. “And I’m sure that there are a lot of us that struggle with this obligation, but at the end of the day you have to pay them. And we pay them.”
Hall, a wealthy plaintiff attorney, recently sold a mansion in Piney Point that cost him enough in late fees to buy some Houstonians’ homes. During a ten-year period, he and his wife paid more than $84,000 in penalties, interest and collection fees. They moved into a house inside the city limits, where he didn’t pay his Spring Branch ISD until a reporter started asking questions.
He’s also paid more than $46,000 in late fees on a historic home in Montrose that houses his law office.
The Houston mayoral candidate readily owned up to his tax troubles and agreed to a television interview, conceding that he fully expected the embarrassing problem to come up during his campaign. Indeed, he tried to spin the questions into an argument that his tax woes make him more sensitive to the problems faced by average taxpayers.
“I think we need to seriously look at whether it is good policy to assess an additional 20 percent load on taxpayers who are already struggling to pay their taxes,” Hall said.
The story was abetted by a tip from the Parker campaign, though one presumes it would have come out one way or another sooner or later. It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize the attack ad potential here. Part of the problem for Hall is that this isn’t a one-time thing, which can be reasonably understood as a mistake. By his own admission, he’s not that diligent about paying on time, which is a pretty remarkable thing to say for someone whose “struggles” are not related to his bank account but his apparent inability to set a reminder on his calendar. Hall makes a decent point about the punitive nature of late-payment assessments, but perhaps not the one he intended to. I mean, if each time he fails to pay his taxes on time he just shrugs and writes a check for the fine, then the penalty in question is clearly insufficient as a deterrent, at least for some folks. I’m not sure how much sympathy he’s going to get with that line of argument, but you play the hand you’re dealt.
One more thing to think about here. While the Parker campaign is clearly interested in defining Ben Hall in a particular way before he can get his campaign off the ground, it’s worth wondering why they’d let loose this piece of intel so early on, when hardly anyone is paying attention and the story may do as much to make people aware that there is someone named Ben Hall running for Mayor as anything else. My guess as to why they’d do this now and not in, say, September, is that there’s more where this came from. We’ll know for sure soon enough. Texpatriate has more.