A decade ago, Houston voters restricted city property tax revenues to the combined rates of inflation and population increases. Like most arbitrary rules that politicians apply to math, this revenue cap sounds like a great idea until it meets the realities of a growing and expanding city.
During the Great Recession, property values remained largely constant while the global economy struggled and revenue to the city fell. City government tightened its belt, cutting spending and reducing its number of employees. Critical investments in our infrastructure, public safety and human services were deferred because we simply couldn’t afford them.
Today, with our strong economy and increased property values, we should be able to make those key investments we were unable to make. The only problem is that the revenue cap prevents us from doing so. We remain in the difficult position of either cutting services, laying people off, or having to seek voter approval to raise the tax rate – because our property tax revenues are capped.
Now, Houston budget writers are trying to recover from those bad choices. The revenue cap has created an artificial crisis for a growing population with rising real estate values. Instead of considering all the choices, Houston faces more hard, if false, choices in the near future.
Managing Houston’s ballooning debt obligations is going to squeeze services that will face an increasing demand. The better Houston does, the worse Houston will become. The revenue cap, as currently written, punishes Houston for its success, antithetical to our city’s core values.
See here for the background. You know I agree with what Bell says, so I’ll keep this brief. As a matter of philosophy, I’m opposed to stupid budget tricks, the vast majority of which offer little more than illusion, distortion, and perverse incentives. I hope to see more people join Bell’s call to repeal this bad law. I just wish more people had spoken against it back in 2004 as well.