End property tax? Hegar drawing fire
AUSTIN - Sen. Glenn Hegar, the Republican nominee for comptroller, is having to walk back some of his enthusiastic statements about abolishing property taxes in Texas.
"I don't like the property tax," he told a Longview tea party gathering in January. "We should replace it. The best thing to replace it with is a consumption type tax, sales tax per se."
To many staunch conservatives, such talk is nectar.
Populist Republican Debra Medina, one of several rivals Hegar beat in this year's primary, talked during her surprisingly strong bid for governor four years ago of a plan to repeal and replace property taxes with sales taxes. This year, Sen. Dan Patrick has made blasting the property tax a centerpiece of his bid for lieutenant governor.
Hegar, though, suggested a very rapid transition to an entirely new tax system - and opened himself to a raft of questions about much higher sales tax rates that would be needed to replace what schools, cities and counties get from property taxes.
On Thursday, Democratic comptroller hopeful Mike Collier released a video of Hegar's Longview comments, calling Hegar's proposal an "unimpeachably bad" policy idea.
The Democrat, a former PricewaterhouseCoopers partner in Houston, said abolishing property taxes would require more than doubling the most common state-local sales tax rate of 8.25 percent, to 20 percent or more. That would shift power away from localities to the Legislature and "put our schools at unnecessary risk," Collier said.
David White, Hegar's campaign manager, rushed to clarify, saying the candidate "has been clear that we are many years away from being able to implement" a full switch to sales taxes. He said Hegar wants to improve property appraisals.
But the damage was done. Politically, you can't easily replace the more than $40 billion a year that local property taxes yield by tinkering with state and local sales taxes, which currently produce about $28 billion.
If Hegar wants to be the chief tax collector and revenue estimator, he should know that.