On May 6, Houston Independent School District (HISD) voters get a do-over, with the chance to keep $8 billion in commercial property on the tax rolls, for the benefit of HISD schools and HISD schoolchildren, by voting for Proposition One.
How did we get here, and why should voters change their vote?
In November, voters angry that state school funding formulas declared HISD property-wealthy revolted against sending an estimated $162 million in recapture funding to the state. It made sense at the time: how can we send local dollars to benefit kids from another district when the majority of our students qualify for free-and-reduced lunch? But not many voters understood that it was a not a question of if HISD would pay recapture, only a question of how.
The consequences of that vote have finally come to light, and the remedy is worse than the original ailment. Unless voters approve Prop One on May 6, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) will permanently “detach” $8 billion in commercial property from HISD tax rolls. This will include properties like the Galleria, Greenway Plaza and Chase Tower. Hundreds of millions of dollars in property tax revenue collected on some of Houston’s priciest commercial property will no longer be used to educate Houston schoolchildren. It will be sent to another school district, to educate children who don’t live in HISD. And this detachment is permanent because there is no provision in current law to bring detached property back onto the tax rolls.
The net effect of detachment will be a tax increase for remaining HISD property owners. In previous elections voters passed bonds that took into consideration the entire property tax base, and the revenue needed to pay our existing $3 billion in bonds will come from a newly reduced tax base, meaning more will be charged to every taxpayer.
For the businesses that occupy the $8 billion in commercial property there will also be a tax increase, because their property will be taxed at a rate that is nine percent higher than the current HISD rate. The fact is, everyone currently in HISD will pay more if Prop One fails. That’s why a bipartisan coalition of leaders are backing passage of Proposition One. We want to keep revenue from HISD properties in HISD, to the benefit of local schoolchildren.
When we voted last November, keeping recapture dollars away from the state seemed like a sensible idea. But there’s a reason no district had chosen this nuclear option before: because the cost of permanent detachment of commercially viable properties is too high a price to pay. I hope all HISD voters will join me in supporting Prop One on May 6.
Rep. Jim Murphy
(State Representative Jim Murphy serves in the Texas House, representing District 133 in West Houston.)