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Tax Cut Promises Lead Campaigns, But May Be Hard to Fulfill

Todd Wiseman & Mikhail Popov, Texas Tribune
With tax revenues up, the call for tax cuts is getting louder.

Several Texas Republican candidates are pushing the idea of cutting taxes in the 2015 legislative session. That includes cutting property taxes and the state’s business tax.

The State of Texas has been flush with cash the last two years. There was a nearly $9 billion dollar surplus in 2013. With another $2.6 billion dollar surplus reported for 2014.

"Our current trends suggest that we're going to do even better than that with the continued health of the oil and gas industry," says Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. "The prospects for next session look very good on the money front and I think that's going to give the Legislature a number of options." 

That is, options to cut taxes. If you've heard any ads from Republican candidates, they're ready to take the money and cut.

Property tax reduction is probably one of the top issues used on the campaign trail. Comptroller candidate GlennHegar has taken up the mantle of eliminating those taxes all together, as he told a Tea Party gathering in Longview back in January.

"I don't like the property tax, never have. I think that we should replace it. The best thing to replace it with is a consumption type tax, sales tax per se," Hegar said.

But that's easier said than done.

"A dramatic lowering of the property tax is probably not achievable with our current revenues," Texas Taxpaers and Research Association's Dale Craymer says. "Property tax, it's a $40 billion tax and it represents about 40 percent of all the taxes paid. So meaningful property tax relief probably requires some alternative source of revenue to pay for that."

Some estimates show eliminating property taxes and replacing it with a sales tax hike, as Hegar has suggested, would put the sales tax rate at 20 percent or higher. At the same time, some business groups are arguing any surplus revenue should be invested in state infrastructure, like roads, schools and water.

"The business leaders in my county here in Dallas, are very concerned that there are current and future elected leaders who are mortgaging our future so that they can go back and tell their constituents that they didn't raise taxes," former Dallas County Republican Party chair Jonathan Neerman says.

The state hasn't seen a dramatic tax cut or shift arguably since 2006, when property taxes were lowered and the state's business tax was broadened to bring in additional revenue. But with the March primaries showing the possibility of a more conservative Legislature in 2015, the prospects for new tax cuts might be looking up.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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