Where Our School Tax Dollars Really Went: The Texas Growth Machine

        The recent “Save Our Schools” rally at the Capitol, with 12,000 attendees from across Texas, was a different kind of education rally. First, Texas Association of Business’ Bill Hammond, a Rick Perry ally lent his support.  More importantly, the rally organizers turned from the typical “no cuts” ballyhoo to focus on one important underlying question – where did the $27 billion shortfall in our state budget come from?  Our school tax dollars got gobbled up by the Texas growth machine.

         In 2006 a study by the Texas Association of Appraisal Districts (TAAD) revealed that across the state large-scale commercial properties were, on average, under-valued by 40%.  The logical conclusion from the TAAD study was published in the Dallas Morning News in 2006.  Roughly $4 billion per year that should have been collected in property taxes was not.  The average elementary student can figure out that that’s about equal to the state’s crushing deficit.

         Rick Perry got over on the Tea Party because they failed to do their homework. Perry’s largest donors, like homebuilder Bob Perry and other hogs at the public trough, are getting water pipelines, roads and other infrastructure for pennies on the dollar, subsidized by the taxpayers they are driving off a cliff.  There’s no exchange of cash or checks.  It’s not a “donation.”  It is a perfectly legal payback.  Officials from the Comptroller’s office down to city government, simply turn their heads to the problem they’ve known about for at least six years.  Meanwhile, local and state governments (Democrats and Republicans) lower the costs of critical infrastructure, water lines and roads in particular. It’s all about subsidizing developers who are simply out to make as big and fast a buck as possible as 1,000 people per day move to Texas. 

         In 2009, a small real estate developer and a founder of ChangeAustin.org,Brian Rodgers, brought just a sample of the problem in Travis County, amounting to $120 million in under-valuations to the Travis County Commissioners Court. Rodgers found out, in a subsequent study he commissioned on the costs of growth in Austin, that for every new home built, $25,000 in public infrastructure costs are off-loaded onto current residents.  In Austin alone, that amounts to $150 million per year.  One wonders what the costs of growth are now in some other big growth counties like Tarrant (25%) Bastrop (28%), Hidalgo (36%), Comal (39%), Guadalupe (47%), Denton (53%), Montgomery (55%), Colin (59%), Hays (60%), Williamson (69%), Ft. Bend (69%) and Rockwall (82%).

         Nationally recognized researcher and community planner, Eben Fodor, author of Better Not Bigger, released a study last December, based on the new Census figures demonstrating that unfettered growth can actually lead to a decline in per capita income

         Rodgers’ and Fodor’s point is that you cannot stop growth, but you sure can make growth pay for itself.

         The Texas Water Development Board, all Perry appointees, are looking for even more goodies for developers by pushing for a constitutional amendment for state backed bonds for water reservoirs and other controversial projects such as water pipelines — a holdover from the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) boondoggle.  It is the proverbial plan to steal from Peter, like Bastrop and Lee counties’ groundwater, to pay Paul, developers who continue to build in water poor Hays and Bexar counties.

         Our best guess is that about $100 million was spent pushing the TTC when Texans were overwhelmingly opposed to it. About 1.3 million Texans voted for independents Carole Strayhorn or Kinky Friedman for Governor, many based on their opposition to the TTC.  But we went back into hiding after 2006 and Rick Perry got over on all Texans again.  So, the real answer as to where the money went is that it went into the pockets of the growth machine.

         George Washington’s farewell address in 1793 was his most important political lesson.  He gave it just 23 years after the real Tea Party took place in Boston Harbor.  By then, our first President was fully aware of the treachery of a partisan political system that was firmly entrenching itself.  He strongly warned about how it can enable “unprincipled men” to, “subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government.”  Perhaps Texas voters are ready to pass the father of our country’s  political test this year.  Caution:  Never underestimate the voracious appetite of a hog.  They really can’t stop helping themselves.

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