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The Watchdog: Don't believe big lie about tax-limit bill

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Dave Lieber, The Dallas Morning News

Today I unveil the biggest lie of the 2017 Texas Legislature.

Fortunately, it's not told by any lawmaker. Unfortunately, I'm going to stamp it on the forehead of thousands of good-intentioned, mostly volunteer public servants who are elected to serve on our city councils and county commissions.

The lie being told in Austin is that the big property tax bill under consideration, Senate Bill 2, takes away local control from city and county governments back home. They say the bill also limits growth in budgets for cities, counties, community colleges and hospital districts.

<br>Michael Hogue/The Dallas Morning News

Michael Hogue/The Dallas Morning News

Truth is, SB 2 does the opposite.

A government would still be allowed to grow 4.9 percent a year with no fuss, no muss. But if city hall or the county courthouse wants to grow 5 percent or more in one year, they have to come to you in a November general election (not offseason when voters are away on vacation) and ask your permission.

Yet most cities and all but two counties are crying about the big bad wolf at the door. There's no wolf.

We need this bill to stop property tax growth from accelerating faster. Big budgets are pumped with spending money derived from soaring property taxes. High tax bills, growing at a ridiculous 10 percent a year (that's the cap) are squeezing Texans in ways unimaginable only a few years ago.

SB 2 gives you, the voter, so much control over how much your city or county government can grow that the politicians cannot stand it.

They don't want to have to ask you the following: "Dear voter, is it OK with you if we grow 7 percent this year?"

That's all it is. Vote yes or no. And when they tell the biggest lie that SB 2 stamps out local control, it means they don't trust that they can sell their government growth to you, the voter, and get approval. This is actually "local local" control. You get to be their boss, and they don't like it.

If I'm going to grow my municipal budget by a large amount, I'm going to sell it to you dear taxpayer, my boss, with all my heart. I'm going to justify my expenses. If I can't sell my budget to you, the people, then I have no business being in government in the first place.

This is about leadership. In the absence of it, they hide behind the biggest lie.

Don't forget who's paying for lobbyists to kill this bill. You. (Through the cities and counties that use taxpayer money to argue against our own interests.)

That's one heck of a lie.

Hearings on similar House Bill 15 may happen in the House next week. Time is running out.

These bills don't directly lower your property tax, but they halt unchecked government growth — which, of course, translates into higher taxes.

Ellis County alert

My plan, offered last month, called "Everybody file a protest" for their property taxes, is catching on.

My goal is to bring attention to the Texas-given right to file a property tax protest, to show homeowners they shouldn't blindly pay taxes based on whatever appraised value is pulled out of the air and to show the unfairness of the system.

Here's more proof that the system is broken — and this is a red alert for property owners in Ellis County.

Their property tax statement states in bold lettering that their deadline to file a protest is May 1.

After a tipster alerted me, I called Ellis County Chief Appraiser Kathy Rodrigue.

"If someone sends you a property tax protest after May 2, are you going to accept it?" I asked.

"Absolutely," she said.

Let's stop there. The true deadline is May 31, but by putting May 1, which she is legally entitled to do, owing to a ridiculous loophole in the way state law is written, Ellis County property owners may not realize they have an extra month to join my "Everybody file a protest" campaign.

Tarrant County played the same game in recent years, listing a May 1 deadline, but the appraisal district accepted protests afterward. This year, after much criticism, Tarrant finally fixed it.

The Ellis County chief appraiser told me that her tax statements do show May 31, but I couldn't find it. She said she'd send me a copy. When she didn't, I asked again, and she explained she was mistaken. May 1 is listed on the tax statement. May 31 is on the protest form.

If she's confused about her own forms, what's it like for property owners?

"It's not like we're trying to deceive anybody," she told me.

She's permitted, technically, to do this under the law's quirks, but chief appraisers in Dallas, Tarrant, Denton, Collin, Rockwall, Kaufman and Johnson counties are also allowed, but they don't do it. (Johnson's deadline is May 30.)

What happens if you mess with the deadline date? Fewer people protest.

If you know Ellis property owners in Ennis, Waxahachie, Midlothian, Red Oak, Maypearl and other towns, invite them to join my protest campaign.

May 31, everyone.

Oh, and Senate Bill 2 would create a universal May 15 deadline so no one can be confused.

Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.

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Write: Dave Lieber, P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, TX 75265