A carbon fee could ease Texans’ property tax woes

Photo by Eddie Seal for The Texas Tribune

My wife and I, along with hundreds of thousands of our fellow Texans, just paid our property tax bill, and just like many homeowners suffering from rising property taxes, we didn’t have the money to pay. So, we did what so many of us must do. We borrowed the money, just like we did last year, and paid our tax bill by credit card.

State leaders continue to hide the real reason behind rising local property taxes: the failure of state government to adequately fund public education.  As a result, you and I will continue to see our local property taxes rise with no end in sight. Year after year, Texas Republicans have shown how little they really value our children’s education by refusing to fix our state’s school funding system. To bridge the deficiency in state funding, local school districts are forced to keep jacking up school property taxes to make ends meet, passing on the lion’s share of the costs to homeowners.

Texas' heavy reliance on property taxes also makes for unequal funding between school districts. Even with the state’s “Robin Hood” funding scheme, poor kids end up going to underfunded schools. And you can just forget about bringing Texas schools into the 21stt century by improving teacher pay, smaller class sizes or replacing school books with laptops. That just isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

But I have a plan that would help you pay those rising property taxes until a solution to school funding is found. I am proposing that Texas place a $10 carbon fee on the monthly production of crude oil, condensate and total oil, gas well gas, casinghead gas and total natural gas, raising an estimated $6.5 billion dollars a year — a number calculated using production data supplied by the Texas Railroad Commission.

Not only will a carbon fee help pay your property taxes, it has the added benefit of facilitating Texas’s move away from a fossil-fuel economy and towards a renewable energy economy, which in turn would help curb rising global temperatures. That’s something I am sure our neighbors along the Gulf Coast would greatly appreciate.

By connecting the dots, we can sometimes see that the solution to one problem is the solution to another problem.

My proposal for a Texas Carbon Fee was developed with the help of Bill Hurley, co-chair of the San Antonio chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby, one of 42 chapters in Texas, which according to their website is “non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change.”

The revenue generated from the fee, which is slightly different from the CLC’s Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal, would be split 80/20 between households claiming homestead property exemptions and renters whose household income is less than 400 percent of the poverty level. Approximately $5.2 billion would be used to reduce school property taxes.

When you receive your property tax bill from your local county tax assessor collector, the amount of taxes assessed would remain the same. However, you would see a TCF credit on your bill averaging approximately $1,580. In the event a homeowner’s school property tax bill is less than $1,580, the difference would be paid to them in the form of a yearly dividend check. Renters would receive quarterly dividend checks of approximately $155.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? I get help paying my school property taxes but as we all know there is no such thing as a free lunch: If there is no increased efficiency in the oil & gas industry or if the industry decides to pass the costs onto their customers rather than its shareholders, the average cost of gasoline could rise as much as .41 per gallon.

According to Michael Cooper, a retired auto industry executive and Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, the average person in Texas drives about 16,347 miles a year and with the average price of gasoline in 2017 at $2.12 a gallon, the average Texan will use roughly 700 gallons of gas a year.

A 41-cent increase in the price of a gallon of gas would mean you would spend an additional $287 or so a year on gas, but homeowners would still see a net savings of about $1,293 a year, renters, about $333.

You should note that there is a direct correlation between higher gas prices and the tendency of people to drive less, paying more attention to how many times they drive to the grocery store in a week, for example. We should also see an increase in mass transit ridership with higher gas prices and the fewer cars on the road, the better for all of us.

Until we fix public school financing, our property tax bills will keep rising. So, if we can get a little help paying our taxes in the interim, why wouldn’t we?

Tom Wakely

Democratic candidate for governor