A Libertarian's take on property taxes

Photo by Nicolas Henderson

The state’s property tax system is a shining example of why so many Texans believe that taxation is excessive and illegitimate.

Many Texas seniors face actual loss of property because they are unable to pay property taxes, and many taxpayers in the state have lost faith in the appraisal process.

Seniors should be exempt from property taxes after they reach the age of 65. It is well documented that seniors suffer a dramatic reduction in income after they retire. Many of them hope to pass down a cherished asset they have worked their entire life to preserve and improve. They should be able to keep and benefit from this asset or provide it to their children and grandchildren, not to the government, and they should be able to do this without any penalties.

My parents bought their first home — the place where I grew up — in 1977 for less than $27,000. Yet in the end, the property taxes were more than the annual mortgage payment. This is unfair and unjust. Reforming how property taxes are levied will go a long way toward alleviating the burden imposed on Texans by an archaic system.

As the state comptroller, I will provide the leadership Texas needs to fix these problems. One of my first priorities will be to advocate for a homestead exemption increase for seniors 65 and over to $150,000. This will enable seniors who have resided in their homes for many years to remain in them for as long as they live.

Many Texans complain that the system is shrouded in mystery and that its fundamental goal is to raise more money for the government rather than assess property value fairly and equitably. Current tax deferral schemes have the same flaw: They look to the interest of government rather than that of the citizen taxpayer. This often results in property going to the state rather than to heirs when an owner passes.

There are some realities we must face as Texans and as Americans. First, most sober and objective observers know the economy is unwinding the massive debt it has been saddled with due to profligate spending. The U.S. had a negative gross domestic product in the first quarter of this year. This will continue to result in an unwinding of massive money inflation resulting in increased personal debt and loss of dollar value.

Second, it is imperative that we tighten the definition of “comparable property” when appraising the value of a home. Because of the lax definition of “comparable,” property owners cannot be certain that appraisal assumptions are accurate or trustworthy. Any system of taxation that operates with ambiguity is to be feared.

Third, we should mandate price disclosure on commercial property to enable “apples to apples” evaluation. This will allow citizens to see how much tax corporations are paying, providing a much-needed check and balance on the property tax system.

Reforming property tax regulations is not just about treating Texas citizens with honesty and openness. It also forces government to begin the hard work of reining in unnecessary expenditures and finding efficiencies to live within its means.

Despite the economic growth we Texans have enjoyed, we still have to do our best to live within our means as well. That’s an individual charter that accords with our desire to provide for our families and take care of our loved ones.

Governmental efficiency and accountability to citizens also make our state appealing to businesses and individuals who by relocating here help fuel our prosperity.

More than that, a burdensome system that benefits the state and not its citizens is not just inefficient — it is offensive to the liberty-loving people who were born here and who have chosen to make Texas their home.

As a Libertarian, I have always advocated for leaner and more efficient government because I believe citizens do better when government does what it needs to do — and nothing more. If I’m elected comptroller, I’ll work for tax relief for the elderly and equity in appraisal policies for all Texans.

Ben Sanders

Libertarian candidate for comptroller