Hegar’s plan to abolish property tax would hurt Texas’ poor

Noah M. Horwitz

If there is any consistency in Texas politics, it’s about taxation. The Republican Party sees it as pure evil — and no, that is not hyperbole. The Texas GOP’s platform advocates for the repeal of the 16th amendment, which allows for a federal income tax, and for the total abolition of capital gains and property taxes, among others. Accordingly, when a Democrat rants and raves about a Republican opponent wanting to raise taxes, it should raise more than a few eyebrows.

Mike Collier, the Democratic nominee for Comptroller, which is the state’s chief treasury and financial official, recently accused his Republican opponent, State Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Harris County, of wanting to engage in a massive tax hike. A recent television ad by Collier pledged to “hold the lines on taxes.” So, for a party so hell-bent on dismantling sources of government revenue, how on earth could one of its candidates be accused of raising them?

Hegar, like his party, is in favor of abolishing property taxes, although they are the largest single source of revenue for local governments in this state. Specifically, municipalities and school districts receive inordinate amounts of their revenue from such sources. Texas’ property taxes are high compared to the rest of the country, but they occur in the complete absence of a state income tax — something few other states boast.

The problem, of course, is that Hegar would not be content simply gutting a major source of revenue and then allowing the state to flounder helplessly toward bankruptcy. Rather, he voiced an alternative solution: upping the state’s sales tax to compensate for the loss. 

“I don’t like the property tax, never have. I think we should replace it,” Hegar said at a campaign forum in January. “The best thing to replace it with is a consumption type tax, sales tax per se.”

Analysis from Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey confirms the suspicion that fully replacing the property tax with an expanded sales tax would raise the rate to nearly 25 percent. To review some simple arithmetic, this would mean that a $50,000 automobile would have a tax bill of $12,500 — no small potatoes.

When I asked Collier about the prospect of Hegar’s sales tax, he doubled down on his tax hike rhetoric, saying, “It’s the worst decision I’ve ever seen,” and adding that it would “dampen our economy,” be “unfair” and “deeply regressive to poorer people.” This view was echoed by students here on campus.

“A sales tax always disproportionately burdens those of lower incomes,” said Taral Patel, a University-wide representative in Student Government. “Many students are on loans or work to make ends meet usually on a minimum wage, and Senator Hegar’s 25-percent sales tax causes significantly more burden to students because we can barely afford the high costs of tuition as it is.”

Indeed, simple economics teaches us that flat taxes are inherently regressive, because those with less money must dedicate a larger proportion of their limited funds than those with means. A sales tax is the epitome of such a scheme, with all of society’s most vulnerable demographics — the young, the old and the impoverished — being hit the hardest.

For the vast majority of us — left and right — it is not a joyous occasion to have hard-earned income garnered by the government. Just about everyone dislikes taxes, but the ugly truth is that they pay for the things we use every day, including bridges, parks, roads and schools. If one of the biggest taxes in the states is done away without equal offsets in spending, it would logically have to be replaced by another irksome tax.

A 25-percent sales tax, however, would not merely be equally irksome to the property tax; it would be much, much worse, especially for students. In today’s political system, the benefits of governmental services must be paid for by the detrimental effects of taxation. Granted, were Hegar to win, his position would not allow him to make changes to Texas’ tax laws. Still, his ridiculous rehtoric could sway lawmakers, who can make changes to the tax code. Consequently, voters should have a say in making sure those taxes are not too detrimental to society’s most vulnerable groups.

 Horwitz is a government junior from Houston.