Doing the Math After Today's Tax Rate Vote
Didn't even get my print-edition column out the door this week before I got a major correction, and this one from a person who would know -- city council member Angela Hunt. She saw it online before the paper hit the streets and texted me from the horseshoe right after today's tax rate vote at City Hall .
Hunt told me I am unwittingly cutting Mayor Tom Leppert a break he doesn't deserve in this week's column. I say in the column that Leppert, in his first two years in office, presided over major tax hikes for city taxpayers by keeping the tax rate the same when property values were going up. (The same rate applied to higher values produces a higher tax bill than you had the year before.)
But Hunt says Leppert didn't just hold the rate the same to get higher taxes out of us. He actually led the council to raise the rate in 2007 after his election, so that taxpayers were hit with a double whammy -- higher values and a higher rate at the same time.
She is right that the rate went up between 2006 and 2007. I thought the 2007 hike was voted on before Leppert was elected in June of that year. But on closer examination today, I see that the 2007 rate seems to have been adopted late in that year -- after Leppert was in the saddle.
Either way, Leppert led the council to adopt a big tax hike that year. But it was even bigger, given what Hunt told me.
A point I try to make in the column is that none of this happened by accident. The council is required by law to look every year at what the law calls the "effective rate" -- that's the rate that would keep tax bills flat, the same as the year before.
If the tax appraisals and property values go up, the effective rate must go down. You would have to lower the tax rate to give people the same tax bills they had before.
Leppert chose not to lower the rate to the effective rate two consecutive years of rising values, thereby raising taxes two years in a row.
The larger point is this: The rate championed and passed today by a majority of the council is lower than the effective rate. It is in that sense a tax cut for the whole city.
The tax rates under Leppert in his first to years were tax hikes, any way you cut it, since they were higher than the effective rate.
That's what's so frustrating about the coverage of this issue in The Dallas Morning News. They keep reporting the tax issue without referring to the effective rate. That way today's vote looks like an almost five percent hike, when it is in fact a tax cut.
It's as if The News tells you that Mr. Smith is walking south at three miles an hour. But they don't tell you that Mr. Smith is on a train that's moving north at 50 miles an hour. In other words, The News is not exactly Einstein.
I was seated in the audience at council today next to Laura Leppert, the mayor's wife. After the vote, a lady stopped by, leaned over me and told her, "Your husband did a wonderful job today. This is a bad day for Dallas. This has become a racial issue."
You know, I disagree. I say it's an arithmetic issue. And an honesty issue. Racial? Not so much. Not unless somebody wants it to be.
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