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Free Enterprise & Government Regulation: Improve Tax Administration

TCCRI's recently published Free Enterprise and Government Regulation Task Force Report considered several improvements to property tax administration and the property tax appraisal process. What follows is an excerpt from the Report on that topic.

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[T]he Legislature should change certain elements of the property tax appraisal system. Many Texas taxpayers are familiar with property tax appraisal process, through which the applicable county appraisal district (CAD) determines the value of their property. The Legislature could improve this process in several respects.


First, the board of directors (BOD) of a CAD are currently appointed by the governing bodies of the local taxing units which fall inside the CAD’s boundaries. Greater accountability for appraisals could be achieved by having the elected heads of the taxing units within a CAD serve as the BOD and directly approve appraisals. By making the already-elected taxing entity officials serve as the BOD, real and long-overdue accountability and responsiveness would be injected into the administration of the property tax. Since these officials are already elected, voters would not have to educate themselves on another set of candidates, but would benefit because the appraisal process would become a subject for debate during election campaigns, with the members of the CAD’s BOD having to defend their records.


Policy Recommendation: Make the elected leaders of taxing units within a central appraisal district (CAD) serve as the CAD’s board of directors (BOD).


Section 23.23 of the Tax Code provides that homesteads cannot be appraised for an amount that exceeds 110 percent of the previous year’s appraisal, although this cap does not apply to improvements to the property made in the last year. But this cap (the “10 percent appraisal cap”) does not apply to second homes or to rental properties. Extending the 10 percent appraisal cap to all properties in the state would protect owners of rental properties, many of whom are “mom and pop” investors, from crushing year-over-year property tax increases. In turn, landlords as a whole should pass on at least a portion of those savings to renters, assuming a competitive market. The Legislature should pursue this idea, although a constitutional amendment would be required.


Policy Recommendation: Extend the 10 percent cap on year-over-year growth in homestead appraisals to all real estate in Texas.


Due to the 10 percent appraisal cap and its cumulative effects over time, there may be a significant gap between a homestead’s appraised value and its market value. For example, a person’s homestead could have a $400,000 market value but an appraised value of $300,00 with the functional equivalent of a $100,000 exemption attributable to the 10 percent appraisal cap. If the owner of the property sells this homestead and purchases another homestead, he or she would effectively be penalized because the sale results in the forfeiture of what is essentially a $100,000 exemption. Ideally, a homeowner should be able to transfer that $100,000 exemption to the new homestead. There are two possible ways in which to calculate the transferred exemption: either as a flat-dollar amount, or as a percentage of the previous homestead’s value. In the above example, the exemption transferring to the new property would be either $100,000 or 25 percent.


Notably, a similar concept exists in current law with respect to the “tax ceiling” for homestead owners who are age 65 or older or who are disabled. This tax ceiling caps the amount of school district property taxes such an owner pays annually at the amount he or she paid in the first tax year in which he or she qualified for the ceiling.i Under the Texas constitution and Section 11.26(g) of the state Tax Code, when a beneficiary of this ceiling subsequently owns a different property that qualifies as a homestead, the tax ceiling transfers to the new property. This transferred exemption is in percentage terms rather than flat-dollar terms. For example, if a homeowner who currently qualifies for the ceiling pays $5,000 in school district property taxes but would pay $10,000 without the ceiling, then the ceiling on his or her subsequent homestead will be 50 percent of the school district property taxes that would be due on the subsequent homestead if no ceiling were in place.


This transferring concept can easily be applied to the 10 percent appraisal cap exemption. In the above example of the homestead with a $400,000 market value and $300,000 taxable value, 25 percent of the value of the new homestead (again, ignoring all other applicable exemptions) would be exempt from school district property taxes. Thus, if the new homestead is worth $700,000, the taxable value of the property would be only $525,000 (i.e., 75 percent of $700,000).


Policy Recommendation: Permit a homestead seller who purchases a new homestead to choose to either carry over his or her 10 percent appraisal cap exemption to the new homestead, or to inherit the 10 percent appraisal cap exemption of the person who sells him or her the new homestead.


Alternatively, the law could be amended to permit the buyer of a property to “step into the shoes” of the seller and benefit from any 10 percent appraisal cap exemption that the seller had with respect to the property at the time of the sale, assuming that the property qualifies as a homestead in the hands of the buyer. Better still, the Legislature could give people who sell their homesteads the choice of either carrying over their ten percent appraisal cap exemption from the sold property, or assuming the seller’s ten percent appraisal cap exemption (if any) on the new property.

You can read this and the rest of the report here.

Several excellent bills regarding expansion of the 10 percent appraisal cap (and their accompanying joint resolutions) have already been filed in the 88th Legislature. Each of House Bill 746 (Dean) and HB 1224 (Metcalf) would make the appraisal cap applicable to all real property, not just homesteads. Each of House Bill 145 (Vasut) and House Bill 335 (Bell, C.) would also extend the appraisal cap’s application to all real property, but additionally would lower the cap from 10 percent (to 3.5 percent and to 5 percent, respectively). House Bill 1566 (Allison) would lower the cap 5 percent and extend its application to all residential properties, not just homesteads.

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