In November 2023, Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment, HJR 2, which Governor Greg Abbott said would “ensure more than $18 billion in property tax cuts—the largest property tax cut in Texas history.” Texas homeowners’ hopes were dashed at the start of 2024, however, when they got their property tax bills. The promised $18 billion reduction amounted to only $12.7 billion in new property tax relief, a fraction of the state’s record $32.7 billion budget surplus, while the other $5.3 billion merely maintained property tax relief from years past.

While Texas doesn’t have a state income tax, it does have the nation’s sixth-most burdensome property taxes. These taxes obstruct peoples’ ability to buy homes and price others out of the homes they’re in. Texans expect and deserve clarity about their property tax bills, but state policymakers’ failed promises and lack of transparency have eroded public trust. 

Despite the governor’s claim, the 2023 tax relief package, spread over two years, isn’t even the state’s largest historic property tax cut. In 2006, the Texas legislature apportioned $14.2 billion to reducing residents’ property taxes, cutting school district maintenance and operations (M&O) property tax rates by a third for 2008–09 biennium, and making up the difference with a revised franchise tax, a higher cigarette tax, and a higher motor vehicle sales tax. Adjusted for inflation, 2023’s cut would have had to exceed $21 billion to surpass the 2006 cut.

The new package's biggest achievement was saving taxpayers $5 billion in 2023 by reducing the maximum school district M&O property tax rate by 10.7 cents per $100 valuation; it also raised the homestead exemption of taxable value for school district M&O property taxes to $100,000 and limited appraisal-value increases to 20 percent for other property. And yet, Texans’ total property taxes paid in 2023 nevertheless rose by $165.2 million over 2022, an overall increase of 0.4 percent. That net increase came from school district tax hikes to fund more debt ($890.2 million); municipal governments ($1.3 billion); county governments ($1.5 billion); and special purpose districts ($1.5 billion). These hikes effectively washed away state-level reductions. While this result is ultimately the fault of local governments, the state should have done more to provide relief and restrict localities’ spending and taxes.

This growth in local property tax collections is part of a larger trend. From 1998 to 2023, Texas’s total property taxes collected rose 338 percent while the rate of population growth plus inflation was just 136 percent. No wonder so many Texans feel as though they are being crushed by housing unaffordability.

How can Texas fix its spending problem? Rather than resort to temporary fixes, the state needs a robust spending cap in its constitution like Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), which limits state and local government spending increases to no more than the rate of population growth plus inflation. Though Colorado’s TABOR has been the gold standard for a state spending limit since its enactment in 1992, it can be improved. At this time, TABOR applies to Colorado’s general revenue, less than half of its total funds; it should be expanded to apply to all state funds, which would account for about two-thirds of its budget, as originally intended. Texas, or Colorado itself, could also improve the model by replacing the latter’s policy of refunding excess tax revenue to taxpayers with up-front income-tax-rate cuts. Texas enacted a statutory spending limit in 2021, but it lacks teeth, as an overriding constitutional spending limit covers just 45 percent of the budget and can be exceeded by a simple majority.

In conjunction with a stronger constitutional spending limit, the Texas legislature should implement strategic budget cuts. These efforts combined with the stricter constitutional spending limit would create opportunities for surpluses at the state and local levels, which would pave the way for the state to reduce school M&O property taxes annually until they are fully eliminated. This alone would shave off nearly half of the property tax burden in Texas.

Viewed from the coasts, Texas is a beacon of economic freedom. But as its spending and property tax data show, it isn’t perfect. The Texas legislature should acknowledge its failed promises and deliver real property tax relief for its citizens.

Photo: Luis M/iStock/Getty Images Plus


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next