by: Jim Bell, May 9, 2007 5:05:00 am
When the legislature passed the tax reform bill last year, lawmakers created an array of new taxes to make up for the revenue it lost when they cut local property taxes. Disabled and elderly taxpayers didn't benefit from that tax cut, and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt says this election will tie up that loose end.
"When the legislature passed property tax relief in the last session it had a known flaw in it. The flaw was that if you're over 65 and your school taxes were frozen, you could not get any property tax relief without a constitutional amendment passing."
Bettencourt says lawmakers had to leave elderly and disabled homeowners out of the tax cut because they can't change the state constitution. They can propose an amendment, which they're doing, but voters must approve it. He says extending the tax cut to more people will take a bite out of state revenues, but not a very big bite.
"This would affect in Harris County over a hundred thousand homeowners who're over 65 and probably have their taxes frozen. The effect on this is in the two to three hundred million dollar range statewide."
Bettencourt says that's not a tremendous amount of money in the overall scheme of things, and the lost revenue won't even be noticed at budget time.
"The legislature has, theoretically, somewhere in excess of 14 billion dollars of surplus. This is effectively only two to three hundred million dollars of it so it's money well spent."
This constitutional amendment is the only statewide issue on this election ballot, and Bettencourt says he's not aware of any opposition. There are local elections set in 45 jurisdictions of all kinds just in Harris County, including 15 cities, eleven school boards, 18 water districts, and the San Jacinto College District. Houston voters will elect someone to fill the at-large City Council seat left vacant when Councilmember Shelley Sekula-Gibbs resigned to run for Congress. Eleven candidates are on the ballot and a runoff is expected. Elections officials are expecting a low turnout in the range of ten percent or less. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.